Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Ray Bradbury Reading Challenge And How It's Going

I've been taking the Ray Bradbury Reading Challenge for two weeks now and it's going very well.  And so I wanted to share some of what I have been reading and learning.  I won't list all of the poems, essays and short stories I read.  Instead I will just note my favorites.

Poems - I have been using Harold Bloom's Best Poems of the English Language.  This collection of poetry starts in the Middle Ages and ends in the late 20th century and I am working through this list in chronological order making sure only to select short poems.  And what I am learning is that being a poet in Tudor England could be a dangerous profession.  Three of the poets I read wound up in the Tower of London.  Sir Thomas Wyatt, Chidiock Tichborne and Robert Southwell S.J.  It was a brutal time. 

Regarding my favorite poems I would recommend three:  Edmund Spencer's One Day I Wrote Her Name which is perfect for Valentine's Day.  William Blake's Chimney Sweeper poem When My Mother Died I Was Very Young. There is a strong Victorian/Charles Dickens vibe to this poem about the lives of young boys, many of them orphans, forced into chimney sweeping work.  And I also recommend Walt Whitman's poem O Captain My Captain, a moving tribute to Abraham Lincoln. 

Essays - I read so many fine essays.  Joan Didion's On Keeping A Notebook, Vivian Gornick's The Anti-Social Novelist which is her review of a recent biography of John Steinbeck but a book review by Vivian is always so much more.  My favorite essay would have to be Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's Dialogue of A Self and Soul: Plain Jane's Progress in which they analyze the novel Jane Eyre:

"It seems not to have been primarily the coarseness and sexuality of Jane Eyre which shocked Victorian reviewers but ... it's anti-Christian refusal to accept the forms customs and standards of society ... They were disturbed not so much by the proud Byronic sexual energy of Rochester as by the pride and passion of Jane herself ... In other words what horrified the Victorians was Jane's anger.

Short Stories - I had 3 favorites:  A Coward by Guy de Maupassant about a foolish young man who in an effort to impress his friends challenges another man to a duel.  I also really liked The School-Teacher's Story by Mary Wilkins Freeman and In Dark New England Days by Sarah Orne Jewett  Both of these stories are set in 19th century New England and have a really nice gothic spooky aspect to them.  

So I do recommend this challenge provided you choose short poems and though I may be breaking the Bradbury rules I have expanded my view of essays to include articles in magazines and book reviews.  I don't know if I will continue posting about the challenge but I did want to share a bit of what the experience has been like

Finally let me thank the great Ray Bradbury for this challenge.  He is sadly no longer with us but his excellent novels and short stories live on. 


  1. I'm glad you're enjoying this challenge so much. O Captain My Captain is such a great poem; I love that one. And I'm curious about the Edmund Spencer poem you mention. I'll have to look that one up. :D

  2. Hi Lark, O Captain My Captain is so moving. Regarding Edmund Spencer his poem One Day I Wrote Her Name opens with the poet (Spencer) trying to write his wife's name in the sand to immortalize her but the tide keeps washing it away and his wife lovingly teases him that all mortals eventually die so is futile what he is doing but he has an interesting response which turned out to be true.

  3. I probably would like to see the Didion essay about Keeping a Notebook. I have not seen that! Seems like a gem. Good luck with Bradbury ...

  4. The Didion essay I enjoyed and it is available online and also in her collection of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

  5. Thanks for another update on the Ray Bradbury challenge. I am glad it is working for you.

    I do think it would be a great challenge and a good way to vary my reading, but I don't see how I would find time to read anything else. I am a pretty slow reader. Maybe I could find a way to work in two of each a week, and see how that worked for me. I have several books of essays that I never get to.

  6. Hi Tracy, I am keeping up with the challenge so far but I have changed it a bit from the way Ray Bradbury designed it. He wanted people to do the challenge for 1000 days. No way I could do that. So I just decided on doing it till the end of the year. Also for me poetry can be no more than 7 stanzas and for essays I have gotten very expansive. I am including book reviews and magazine articles which can be quite short. I tried reading an essay by Montaigne but he wasn't for me. But I am finding some really fine literature I never would have without the challenge.