Another great one has gone to that great library in the sky.
Ray Bradbury is, among many other things (all good), a visionary, a genius, a role model and a hero.
More than simply crafting a handful of masterworks that subsequent generations will enjoy, and learn from, he was the ultimate writer’s writer: in love with the craft, infatuated with words, passionate about the process as much –or more– than the results. Over the years I’ve unfailingly been moved and inspired by the things he’s said and written, about himself, literature and the connection between books and people. (Get a taste of that, here.)
I do know that the first time I encountered his short story “A Sound of Thunder” it was an early and crucial metaphysical experience. Having read the bible and so many books I was supposed to read and often finding them lacking, or at least not capable of changing my perception (as if a prepubescent punk can or should have his perception altered much one way or the other), this was one of many subsequent encounters with fiction that changed me. You can’t read a writer like Bradbury and remain the same person, even if you don’t fully realize it at the time. And, for my money, to remain the same person you have to make a concerted effort to not be moved or misunderstand the ways reality is altered by fiction that interrogates the nature of existence and how we, as sentient creatures, create and respond to it. That is the elemental mystery and magic of literature: when done indelibly, it is supposed to change you (more on that here).
I quote and, whenever appropriate, invoke my literary heroes as often as I can. The balance between being too judicious and overly generous with one’s shout-outs and name-checks is a fine one, to be certain. You don’t want to be gratuitous but you do want to keep it real. I made my own paltry attempt to shoot up a heartfelt flare of solidarity with a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bradbury in an early scene from my first novel. No matter how inadequate the results, the intentions are always genuine:
The last thing you want to do on a long road trip is go and get yourself killed, but like all the truly consequential things in life, it is often out of our control. Whether we are making a quick trip to the grocery store, or en route to work, or embarking on an impulsive return to our hometown, we are not unlike the mates who followed Ahab aboard the Pequod and into the open sea, uncertain if the gods will bless or betray our best endeavors. And those irascible forces, ever out of our control, are always in the mix, doing the things they do: if, say, an angel’s harp string breaks in heaven, or someone steps on a butterfly in a Ray Bradbury short story, then the karmic gate is going to swing wide open, ushering an unsuspecting civilian into the past tense. It takes a collective effort, a diligent faith, and an honest regard for the collective welfare, to pursue our elusive white whales without allowing selfish obsessions to endanger others.
I think the best way to remember Bradbury today is let the man speak for himself. Courtesy of the righteous site Letters of Note (check them out on Facebook here and get your daily dose), today features an entirely appropriate and typical letter from the great man himself. The link is here, but I’m happy to reproduce the words, below. Can there be any doubt this was a man who did exactly what he was put on this earth to do? We are lucky to have shared air with this gentle giant.
September 15, 2006
Dear Shawna Thorup:
I’m glad to hear that you good people will be celebrating my book, “Fahrenheit 451.” I thought you might want to hear how the first version of it, 25,000 words and which appeared in a magazine, got done.
I needed an office and had no money for one. Then one day I was wandering around U.C.L.A. and I heard typing down below in the basement of the library. I discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for ten cents a half hour. I moved into the typing room along with a bunch of students and my bag of dimes, which totaled $9.80, which I spent and created the 25,000 word version of “The Fireman” in nine days. How could I have written so many words so quickly? It was because of the library. All of my friends, all of my loved ones, were on the shelves above and shouted, yelled and shrieked at me to be creative. So I ran up and down the stairs, finding books and quotes to put in my “Fireman” novella. You can imagine how exciting it was to do a book about book burning in the very presence of the hundreds of my beloveds on the shelves. It was the perfect way to be creative; that’s what the library does.
I hope you enjoy reading my passionate output, which became larger a few years later and became popular, thank God, with a lot of people.
I send you all my good wishes,
Reading that, right now, makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to be a better reader. Most of all, it makes me want to be a better person. Human beings sharing, creating and connecting, and the things that occur when we are open to such possibilities, is my ultimate creed, and it is a faith that can never be broken so long as I have eyes to read, ears to hear and a mouth to speak.