|Ray Bradbury - circa 2009|
About four and a half years ago I attended a fundraiser put on by the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library. The speaker was a then 87-year old bespectacled unimposing man who was wheeled into the room and apologized for not standing.
The man was Ray Bradbury, down from his Los Angeles home and to this library in an affluent California beach city because budget cuts were threatening the continued ability of libraries to remain open: libraries that for him were self-described alternatives to college for those who had no money.
As he spoke in generalities and specifics about why he wrote every day since Mr. Electro touched him on his nose with an electrified sword and told him he would “Live Forever” in 1932, and what he wrote on those daily excursions, and how writing is in most of us if we just remained observant of what goes on around us, I found myself drifting back to my memories of reading what he had written, some in school as assignment, more in discovering life around me, in college, in marriage, and in life itself as it developed.
Both Mary and I were Bradbury fans before we married, probably for different reasons. I had gone through what might be described as a Science-Fiction phase, devouring Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and discovering the "Martian Chronicles" along the way. She had felt a closeness with his loosely autobiographical stories about his early years in Waukegan, Illinois, since many of his experiences mirrored her upbringing in nearby Janesville, Wisconsin.
Early in our marriage we began attending a group that discussed The Great Books and books and the discovery of books became a topic of conversation. We both found ourselves attracted to the background that led Bradbury to write “Fahrenheit 451”, namely that possession and reading of books could be considered a crime. Bradbury said the inspiration for the theme was given him one night when he just began to walk aimlessly on a city street and was stopped by a policeman who seemed suspicious that someone would walk without a definite purpose or destination in mind. If walking could be considered a crime; why not reading?
In researching this post I found many interesting facts; not surprising when you consider the man’s age and a career that produced more than 300 stories, numerous plays and screenplays, radio and television writing for giants like George Burns, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rod Sterling, and occasional poems and essays.
For instance, one of his fondest memories was being asked to write the screen play for John Houston’s “Moby Dick”. His basement office, where he wrote until the last weeks of his life has memorabilia galore, which he claimed inspired many of his stories. Paramount in prominence are items from his time in Ireland, where he would spend evenings keeping Houston company while drinking Irish whiskey and telling stories.
He was fond of contrasting the idyllic peace of his youth in, what he called Green Town with the adventurous and exotic environs of places like Africa or even other worlds. One of my favorite stories is “The Veldt”; set in Africa where a house has so many features it can raise the children without parents. Mary and I share a famous favorite, “Dandelion Wine”, which linked together several short stories set in the Midwest, recalling for us our own youth.
I found two items that are still available that I intend to buy: a DVD titled “Ray Bradbury’s Chrysalis” that came out in 2010 and a CD titled “Bradbury 13” recorded that same year: an audio book featuring, among other stories, “The Veldt”. As I make my way through those, I’ll remember the pleasant evening at the Laguna Library and the memories evoked by a wonderful, prolific, man. You’ll find links in this post that will allow you to find your own way to rediscovering Ray Bradbury. You also might enjoy the link to his “100 Short Stories” where you will find reflective reviews from many readers of all ages.
In my next post I’ll share a recent article in The New Yorker that looks at how American middle-class families are raising their children. What this Anthropologist found may surprise you.
Do you have a favorite Bradbury story? If so, comment me what, and more importantly, why.