Better Reading Through Variety – The Bradbury Method

I’ve been following the “Bradbury Method” of reading a poem, a short story and an essay every night, in addition to my normal attempt at reading 10 pages every day.  Bradbury’s idea was that a thousand days of this program would prepare you for life as a writer.  I understand already why he said this, and I have to say, it’s expanding my ideas, and my exposure to writers even after only a few months of following it.  Even better, I’ve found some new writers that I really like by perusing through essays and short story collections.  I used to always want to write short stories, and hence have been collecting them since my early college days.  I did not, however, have many collections of essays.  That was solved by one trip to Half Price Books.

As I’ve written about before, writers need experiences, and reading experiences are just as valid as any other.  The challenge for me is, I read very slowly, so it takes me time to get through books. Plus, with everything else I have going on, I’m lucky to get an hour or two a day to read.  But by focusing on shorter works, I get three times the variety in the same amount of time.  I’ve seen an immediate change in my thinking and the expansion of my ideas.  I can’t imagine the improvement/damage 1000 days of this will produce.

Variety is the spice of life, right?

So with the spirit of variety, I’ve grabbed anything that strikes my fancy.  I found a new (to me) writer, Teju Cole, an American who was raised in Nigeria and has to be one of the most well-educated and literate people I’ve ever read.  He has a gentle voice that I just don’t see much of in writing.  I had never heard of him, and I literally still have to look up his first name every time I try to write about him.  It’s embarrassing, and I hope he never reads this for several reasons.  I aspire to be as literate and well-rounded as he is, but that won’t happen, as I’m already seven years older than him. He’s also an award-winning photographer, and I would imagine an incredibly interesting dinner guest, although one that would make me feel completely stupid.

But I’ve read others that are new to me as well that have had just as much effect.  I’ve read Updike (one of my favorites), Montaigne, the inventor of the essay, David Sedaris, who I don’t like but who is growing on me, and some that I’ve never heard of that I’m not sure are even worth mentioning here.  But they all add to the stew.

Then there are the short stories. I’ve been focusing on one of my new favorites, C.S. Boyack and his Experimental Notebooks, but I also figured it would make sense to give Ray Bradbury a shot with his short story collection, The Cat’s Pajamas as well.  The thing that was so impressive about Bradbury is that his work defied genre. That collection is a compilation of old and newer stories and was published just before his death, I believe.  It shows a lifetime of writing, and while there’s a thread that flows through all his work, it’s subtle, like life itself.

Don’t forget the poetry

And finally, there are the poems.  I’ll be honest, I enjoy writing poetry more than I enjoy reading most of it, especially modern poetry.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read my work so far that I like orderly poems.  I like form and function and prefer the lyric to the conversational in my poetry.  To me, it’s just more of an art form to have to fit the words into the constrained boxes.  I’ve been reading a delightful how-to book from Stephen Fry, of all people, on how to write poetry.  I have a literature degree and I’m learning more about poetry from his book than anything I ever learned in college.  That’s because college focuses on the interpretation of the work, not the form.  I suppose if I had gone to the Iowa Writers Workshop, I would have had more detailed exposure to the craft, but possibly not, because I would have never focused myself on poetry.  It’s a hobby and an interesting pastime as it relates to my writing.  I’ve found new poets, too.  Some I really like, some I’ve returned to after years and started re-reading.  My favorite right now is an American poet named Billy Collins, who I initially confused with the Scottish comic, Billy Connolly.  I briefly imagined some extremely vulgar and funny lyric poems from the funny Scot. But Billy Collins was someone I had never heard of, whose poetry doesn’t fit my normal mode of enjoyment, but the accessibility of his poetry is so good, that I’ve found a lot of pleasure in his style.

Cue the cliché

I’ve always heard about variety being the spice of life, and while I think that phrase is annoying when applied to the life of a 50-year-old like myself, I think it’s imperative in the heart and mind of a writer.  We have to be voracious readers as well, and I’m again making up for lost time.  I spent a little more than the first third of my life trying to avoid reading books, now I’m making up for all that wasted time.  When I find the literacy of someone like Teju Cole, I feel the full brunt of my wasted youth.  I could use those 18 years back to study.

There’s nothing I can do about that but read a lot of variety now and try to make up for lost time. I also have to forgive myself and just move on.  I’ll never be one who can speak intelligently about literature, even with a degree in such.  It’s just not my thing.  That’s OK, I have other things.  I think one of the hardest things to do in life is to let go of that tinge of jealousy that pops up when you find someone who has what you always really wanted in life.  I can’t say I’m jealous, either, it’s not quite that.  I’m envious of the mind that would keep pursuing life intellectually and not get sidetracked by all the bullshit that goes on in modern life.  I’ve had to basically cut myself off from the world to find my own voice, such is the softness of my voice in this world.

As I look back to February of 2018, I had just finished my first month of writing 500 words every single day.  I was at the beginning of this journey, and finding excitement every single morning as I saw the progress that I made in a short amount of time.  18 months later, I’m still going, and have a solid 1000-word-per-day habit that I can rely on.  Now, it’s about finding subjects worthy of 1000 words.  Expanding your education and reading experience is always worth it.  Plus, it’s virtually free.  If I didn’t want to buy books, there are tons of online resources and even libraries that still have books.  Even my little town will have a collection of essays and short stories to go through.  Plus, this program lacks the required commitment of even reading a full book.  The longest essay I’ve read was one of Montaigne’s that might have been 20 pages.  I did break that one up over two nights, but even still, I’m getting orders of magnitude more variety and exposure than I was just by reading books.

This will go down as another thing I wish I would have started ten years ago.  Such is life…

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