Last year, I set myself a reading challenge that I came to affectionately call the Bradbury Trio.
I had begun to dedicate significant portions of my writing time to the short story form. It made sense to ramp up the amount of short stories I was reading too.
Then I came across this video of the wonderful Ray Bradbury who sets a challenge to all writers:
I encourage you to watch the entire video. Mr. Bradbury is an endearing speaker and a joy to listen to. He overflows with wisdom. If you just want to check out his recommendation to writers, skip to 8:45 in the video.
The ‘Bradbury Trio’ in Ray Bradbury’s own words:
“I’ll give you a programme to follow every night. Very simple programme. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That will take you ten minutes, fifteen minutes. Okay? Then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry. Now, if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. But read the great poets. Go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.”
This assignment is in addition to all the other reading you’re already doing. You should already be diving in and out of different novels whenever you can. Your Kindle should be stuffed. Your stacks of books should be threatening to topple.
I modified the Bradbury Trio to include an optional extra story form: the short film. I like my writing to be cinematic so I added a daily viewing of one quality short film to the mix (check out this cool one).
The theory behind the Bradbury Trio is that, to use Mr. Bradbury’s phrase, you’re ‘stuffing your head’ with ideas. You are going to bombard yourself with the most beautiful imagery ever crafted, the most compelling fiction, the most revolutionary ideas, and all of this is going to seep into and influence your writing.
Even if you’re not a writer, the Bradbury Trio is a fantastic exercise for making you more creative and stimulating your brain. You will always have things to discuss with anyone and people will find you endlessly interesting. Also, it’s fun. That’s a good enough reason too, right?
The ‘Bradbury Trio’: one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.
I’m doing it. Will you join me? If you’re in on this exciting programme, let’s look at some suggestions to get you started. I’m going to list Mr. Bradbury’s suggestions, then I will list a few of my own.
Ray Bradbury’s Short Story Suggestions
Mr. Bradbury gives a treasure trove of short story suggestions. Here are the names he mentioned and I’ve included some specific stories to get you started.
H. G. Wells – Selected Stories of H. G. Wells (Modern Library Classics) is definitely something worth grabbing. Ursula K. Le Guin is the editor of this collection, so you know you’re in for a treat. Good stories to start with include ‘The Country of the Blind’, ‘A Slip Under the Microscope’, and ‘The Valley of Spiders’.
Jules Verne – Try ‘Doctor Ox’s Experiment’ and ‘A Drama in the Air’.
Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes. Of course! It’s definitely worth putting Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection on your Kindle. Start out with ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ and then blitz through the collection.
P. G. Wodehouse – Bradbury has expressed his love for Jeeves. I must confess that I haven’t read too much Wodehouse, though I really want to. Do you have any suggestions for where to start? Let me know in the comments and I’ll read it and add it in.
Roald Dahl – Dahl has some great children’s books but how many of his short stories have you read? And have you seen ‘Tales of the Unexpected?’ Try reading ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, ‘Skin’, and ‘Beware of the Dog’.
Guy de Maupassant – Try ‘The Blind Man’ and ‘Femme Fatale’.
John Cheever – Check out ‘The Swimmer’ and ‘Goodbye My Brother’.
Richard Matheson – One of the writers for ‘The Twilight Zone’ and has a great collection of science fiction novels. Check out ‘Prey’ and ‘Dance of the Dead’.
Nigel Kneale – This author is new to me. Mr. Bradbury recommends him highly. I will do some exploring and update this once I’ve read a few of his works. In the mean time, have you read anything by Nigel Kneale? If so, let me know.
John Collier – Another new one to me. Mr. Bradbury praised Collier as one of the greatest short story writers of the twentieth century. ‘Evening Primrose’ is his most famous story.
Edith Wharton – Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize and has a strong oeuvre with books like ‘House of Mirth’ and ‘The Age of Innocence’. Check out ‘Mrs. Manstey’s View’ and ‘Xingu’.
Catherine Ann Porter – I can’t make any personal suggestions yet because I haven’t read any but Catherine Add Porter is an author who I am excited to dive into. I’m looking forward to reading her novel, ‘Ship of Fools’, as well as her short stories.
Eudora Welty – Mr. Bradbury recommends the collection A Curtain of Green: and Other Stories.
Washington Irving – Check out ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle’.
Herman Melville – ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener’ is a great story. Also check out ‘The Lightning-Rod Man’.
Edgar Allen Poe – One of my favourites. There are so many Poe stories to recommend. For starters, read ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Black Cat’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Cask of Amontillado, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Imp of the Perverse’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. Man, I love Poe.
Nathaniel Hawthorne – Try ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and ‘The Birth-Mark’.
Mr. Bradbury also has some words of advice concerning modern anthologies of short stories:
‘Stay away from modern anthologies of short stories because they are slices of life. They don’t go anywhere. They don’t have any metaphor.’
My Short Story Suggestions
‘An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce – Beautifully written. Shocker of an ending.
‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol – One of the strangest short stories I have ever read.
‘Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut – I love this short story. In fact, I love it so much that I’m going to read it again right now. Be right back.
‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson – If you haven’t read this yet, put it at the top of the list. In fact, read it right now. Seriously creepy. Seriously good fiction.
‘Borges and I’ by Jorge Luis Borges – This one is so short that you can read it in two minutes. But don’t just read it once (you won’t want to). Read it over and over again. This is a beautiful piece of art.
‘The Lady with the Dog’ by Anton Chekhov – You can’t read enough Chekhov. There’s no such thing as a Chekhov overdose. Gobble up everything you can get your hands on.
‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway’s got a bunch of stellar short stories. This is one of the most famous. Masterful dialogue.
‘The Birds’ by Daphne du Maurier – This one creeped the hell out of me. The story is symbolic of the tension left over from the Second World War and the Cold War.
‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield – A beautifully written exploration of class and death.
‘The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket’ by Yasunari Kawabata – Beautiful story. One of my favourites. I’m going to reread this right now.
‘Signs and Symbols’ by Vladimir Nabokov – I love his novels and I love this short story. The ending will keep you up at night.
Mr. Bradbury says to read ‘from various fields. Archaeology, zoology, biology. All the great philosophers of time.’
He specifically recommends the essays of Aldous Huxley and anything you can get hold of by Loren Eisley, in particular ‘The Fire Apes’.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
‘Consider the Lobster’ by David Foster Wallace – I highly recommend you listen to the audio version narrated by Foster Wallace himself.
‘A Modest Proposal’ by Jonathan Swift – One of the most excellent pieces of satire in the history of English literature. No, Swift wasn’t actually arguing that poor Irish people should eat their children.
‘Self-Reliance’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson – All of Emerson’s essays are a delight to read. Every line sparkles with wisdom. I also highly recommend Emerson on ‘Art’.
‘Notes of a Native Son’ by James Baldwin – This is the most gripping, powerful explorations of race that I have ever read.
‘State of the Species’ by Charles C. Mann – Riveting anthropology beautifully rendered. Read it at Orion Magazine’s website.
‘On the Sufferings of the World’ by Arthur Schopenhauer – A great read and one I’m sticking on my reread list right now.
If you’re going to read a poem a day, my suggestion is to pick up a couple of decent collections. There is actually a series of books called ‘Poem a Day’. They currently have three volumes and I have already used and abused the first two volumes. These collections are superb. I highly recommend you pick up Poem a Day, Vol. 1 today. The only problem is that you won’t want to confine yourself to just one. That’s okay. Read as many as you like. One a day is the minimum requirement. I blitzed through each volume in less than a week though.
If you want a collection to carry around everywhere with you, grab The Best of Poetry: Thoughts that Breathe and Words that Burn for Kindle. I’m really impressed with this collection. They’ve stuffed it full of great poems. You’re sure to find something you’ve never read before.
Also, if you want to write poetry, I can recommend no better book than The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by the magnificent Stephen Fry.
As for actual poem recommendations, here are a few of my favourites to get you started:
‘My Love’ by e. e. cummings – This is one of my favourite lines in all of poetry: ‘thy eyes are the betrayal of bells comprehended through incense’.
‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning – A classic and a great introduction to Browning.
‘Symphony in Yellow’ by Oscar Wilde – Beautiful synaesthesia from Wilde.
‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe – One of the most gripping poems I have ever read.
‘This is Just to Say’ by William Carlos Williams
‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg – Listen to Ginsberg reading this poem.
The Best of Ray Bradbury
How could we forget the man himself? Here are a few of my favourite Ray Bradbury short stories:
‘The Illustrated Man’
‘The Sound of Thunder’
‘Season of Disbelief’
Join me in 1,000 days of the ‘Bradbury Trio’:
1 short story
‘Every night, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one short story, one poem, and one essay. At the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff. You’ll be full of ideas and metaphors along with your perceptions of life and your own personal experiences.’- Ray Bradbury
If you need more suggestions about what to read, check in with me and I will let you know what my Bradbury Trio for the day is.