I feel compelled to write of Ray Bradbury as I’m sure many other writers are right about now. I can almost hear the multitude of keyboards typing personal odes to a writer we admire who touched our writing hearts in one way or another. So I will endeavor to add my own humble two cents worth.
I don’t have much of a history with Ray Bradbury, just a distant acknowledgment of the man. I’ve read his books and at one of the Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books, I stood in line and had my picture taken with Mr. Bradbury while he signed my copy of Fahrenheit 451. He didn’t look up for the picture, actually, he was taking a drink at the time his assistant happily urged me to ‘get in there’ and have my picture taken. It’s an awkward picture of me giving a questioning grin and Mr. Bradbury with his head tilted back while he sips his water. Still, he signed my book and I think that’s pretty cool.
I was in 6th grade when my father handed me Fahrenheit 451 and said I might like it. I loved it, but ever since I put the book down, I’ve been worried a little about censorship, and a lot about what book I would be.
At the end of Fahrenheit 451, if you recall, the main character takes up with the ‘book people’; a group of people who have each memorized a great work of literature. It has been a curiosity of mine ever since I finished that book to wonder: What book would I be?
I have read some great works in my time, and there is part of me that (much to my father’s chagrin) believes I would like to be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. On other days, I think I would like to be L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. And for several years, I would have been Stephen King’s IT. But part of me thinks that I should yearn to be a top 100 literary great book, should I? Isn’t that the proper list to pull from if one were to be a book? I should be War and Peace, Madame Bovary, or something by Franz Kafka. But those books aren’t very ‘me’. So I thought about the stories that stuck with me over the years; the stories I can’t shake.
Here is what I’ve come up with: I think part of me would have to be the short story The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving. If ever there was a short story that I read at a young age that made me stand up and actually take note of the written word, it was that story. Another part of me would be Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Reading that book opened up a feeling that anything and everything was completely, absolutely possible in this life. And another part of me would be a mix of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Homer’s Odyssey. Both of those books spoke to my soul at an early age and continued to whisper secrets throughout my life. There are a thousand more books I would like to be, but those…those books have the essence of my own heart.
I digress, we were speaking of Mr. Bradbury.
My favorite personal story of Mr. Bradbury is this: (and I don’t know if it is true or not, I can’t honestly recall where I heard it from, which means it has become twisted into a kind of glorious fiction in my mind).
Life magazine does not normally publish fiction, but it published Hemingway’s story The Old Man and The Sea September 1, 1952. Mr. Bradbury, a man of 32 years old at that time, stayed up all night at a local diner with a group of friends on August 31st, drinking coffee and waiting for the early edition of Life magazine to be delivered to the newsstands. At 4 or 5 in the morning, the magazine was delivered, Mr. Bradbury and his friends purchased their copies, went back into the diner and devoured the story written by Hemingway. Sitting back once they had their fill and spending the dawn discussing Mr. Hemingway’s written word.
I sigh when I tell that story, true or not. Because, even if it wasn’t Mr. Bradbury, there were some literary intellectuals who did do that. What a time to be alive, when great authors were producing work that wasn’t dependent on how ‘liked’ it was on Facebook, but on merit and talent and style and syntax. A time when each word dripped with meaning, wrapped in the heat of the decade and served to a yearning public. I want to eat a moment like that up. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about a new book, a new piece of music, a new movie that I sat up late to obtain a copy and was so awash in the work that I yearned to sit with a group and discuss each angle of the joy at great length.
I sit tonight, a small voice amid thousands, who just want to give a nod to a man who had fun writing, who told stories that reflected the truth, and who was eccentric enough to write science fiction stories involving space travel and such while, he, the man himself, never learned to drive a car and didn’t care much for flying.
Thank you sir, with love, – a lowly struggling writer.
It seems apropos to leave these thoughts with a quote from Mr. Bradbury himself:
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
That would be enough, but it’s probably the quote everyone is using since it talks of a man who has just left us, instead, how about we leave on this note: