Day 2: Bradbury Reading Program

Essay: The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved by Hunter S. Thompson

“Great creeping Jesus, I thought. That screws the press credentials. I had a vision of some nerve-rattling geek all covered with matted hair and string-warts showing up in the press office and demanding Scanlan’s press packet. Well … what the hell? We could always load up on acid and spend the day roaming around the grounds with big sketch pads, laughing hysterically at the natives and swilling mint juleps so the cops wouldn’t think we’re abnormal. Perhaps even make the act pay up: set up an easel with a big sign saying, ‘Let a Foreign Artist Paint Your Portrait, $10 Each. Do It NOW!'”

This is classic Hunter S. Thompson, a dark and vicious story about the journalist’s attempt to cover the authenticity and grittiness of the Kentucky Derby. He starts off by judging the scene and everybody in it, then descends into a mad drunken bender, after which he realizes he’s become what he hates.

This was a powerful example of picking the right details to tell your story, a tapestry of people watching when the story becomes the narrator, something that’s usually taboo in journalism. But the way that Thompson describes himself in dark and brutal certainty, you want him to become the story; he’s a cultural icon after all.

Short Story: Cathedral by Raymond Carver

“On her last day in the office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose—even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really important had happened to her.”

The slow build of this story was fantastic. It takes place over one evening, over one dinner party, with a husband and wife and their guest. Their guest is a blind man whom Robert’s wife corresponds with, a childhood sweetheart. At first Robert is confused and prejudiced about the man’s blindness, wondering how he could possibly navigate the world and appreciate beautiful women. Then they’re sitting together when his wife has gone to sleep, watching a program on TV about medieval Europe, and Robert is trying to explain the impressiveness of cathedrals to the blind man.

At first he’s dismissive. You wouldn’t know what a cathedral looked like, would you? Then he has trouble describing one. Then the blind man asks him to draw one. They draw it together. Robert closes his eyes, and finally he can see.

This is the kind of story that wouldn’t appeal to the modern reader because there’s not enough action in it, it’s just a slow-building mural of character interiority. But it’s the kind of fiction I love, about moments that define us as people. Just a few simple acts lead to a profound revelation, in the end.

Poem: i. Mood Indigo by Nitozake Shange

“it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street”

Such a gorgeous meditation on the long arc of history and how change and historical significance end up getting diluted over time, paved over with good intentions.

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