I think I read Ray Bradbury for the first time in the summer of 1970. I’d had just moved to L.A. to live with my dad. I can’t remember how came across that first book of short stories, or even what the first book was. I just know that after that I read every Ray Bradbury book I could get my hands on.
I’ve been reading various obits and have come to realize that the stories in those books I read in the ’70s had been written decades before. Yet to me, they seemed timeless, just as immediate as if they’d been written exactly for me. I also thought I’d read just about everything Bradbury had written, but a scan of his bibliography tells me I had a long way to go.
Of his novels, I’ve read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes (and wrote a poem using that marvelous title). Of his short story collections, I’ve read The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Dark Carnival, The Illustrated Man, The October Country, R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Maybe some others that I’m not remembering. I tried looking for the books on our overflowing bookshelves, but with time I think those original paperbacks have pretty much distintegrated.
The thing about reading Bradbury’s stories is that it seemed as if he was describing exactly my childhood. I didn’t grow up in a small town in Illinois (heck, I was raised in Los Angeles). But he managed to capture and distill what it meant to be a child. How those golden summers seemed to last forever, how the chill of an October Halloween night feels on your face, the hopes and dreams of childhood that are largely forgotten once we’re adults.
Yes, he wrote speculative fiction, but even within those stories his atmospheric description of setting had a way of reaching inside me and getting me emotionally involved. It also made me long to be able to write stories just like that. I’d already decided I wanted to be a writer, but if I hadn’t settled on speculative fiction as my chosen genre, I certainly did after reading Ray Bradbury.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to hear Bradbury speak at the community college I was attending. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I remember being enthralled. I also seem to recall going up afterwards and asking him a question. But what the question was or what he might have answered are lost in the mists of time.
I want to pick up his books again. Maybe there are a few on my bookshelves that survived the 40 years since I first acquired them. If not, there’s always the library (they’re having a Friends of the Library sale this weekend) or the local bookstore. I’ll have to find his books in paper because Bradbury only agreed to digitizing one book (Fahrenheit 451) before he died. But reading Ray Bradbury via a paper book, the way I did that endless summer of 1970, seems exactly the proper way to revisit the master.