Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ray Bradbury 8/22/1920 — 6/5/2012

As both an avid reader and an aspiring writer I thought it appropriate to note that Ray Bradbury died last Tuesday. He was 91 years old.

The first story of his I read was probably “The Veldt” in an elementary school textbook. It's a futuristic story of two children who have a playroom with video walls that show whatever they want. They usually pick an African grassland (a "veldt") scene, a fixation that worries their parents. Eventually it's not just the visual scenery the parents notice but a hot breeze and strange smells, and eventually the lions look more and more hungrily at them when they look in on the kids. Frankly, I'm still creeped out and traumatized by that story!

The second time I remember was in high school when we read a chapter from a book and then had to write the next chapter. I didn't remember the name of the book or the author but it was about some women coming home from the movies and talking about a local murderer called "The Lonely One." They plead with their friend to stay the night with them, but she insists on going to her own house – even though she'll have to cross a ravine. In spite of her bravado, she becomes very frightened by strange sounds and just reaches her door ahead of what she thinks is the Lonely One. As she locks the door behind her, she hears someone inside her house clear his throat...

Years later I came across that chapter again while reading Dandelion Wine. It's about 12 year-old Douglas Spaulding of Illinois in the summer of 1928 when he realizes for the first time that he is alive – truly alive. He keeps a list of all the "firsts" of the summer – first new pair of sneakers, first batch of dandelion wine bottled for the winter months, putting up the porch swing, etc. But with his new awareness of being alive comes the realization that he will also one day die. And this is a most difficult book to explain and describe. The writing is incredible, almost poetic and dream-like in some ways, and it creates powerful visual images and feelings, especially with the sometimes disconnected and snapshot-like chapters. The beginning is very moving when Douglas becomes aware of everything around him, but it gets rather dark toward the end when he begins to recognize his own mortality. It's some of the most amazing writing I've ever read, and a book I'd like to read again sometime.

I also enjoyed the spooky Something Wicked This Way Comes about best friends Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade who were born 2 minutes apart (Will a minute before midnight on Oct 30 and Jim a minute after midnight on Oct 31), and it's an interesting and insightful look at what it's like to be 13. But Fahrenheit 451 is probably Bradbury's most well-known book, also about a future where homes have rooms with television screens that cover entire walls and viewers interact with the characters, and firemen don't put out fires but instead burn books. Readers usually think it's about censorship, but Bradbury said it was "a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature."

I actually got to hear Mr. Bradbury speak several years ago at the Woodland Hills Library. Braiden and his friend Nick went for extra-credit in their English class, but the overflow crowd was mostly adults. He talked about how lucky he was to have made a living and a life from writing, and shared stories of how he spent evenings at the library and how he got started and how much he loved books and reading, and it was actually really fun and interesting. I wouldn't call myself a "fan," because there have been a number of stories I really didn't like, but there were a few that amazed me and made me wish I could write like he did.

No comments:

Post a Comment