First, let me point out that I have never met Ray Bradbury, yet I full-heartedly believed the man and his writing played a profound role in my life, to the point where I can hardly imagine what my life would be like without him.
Let me backtrack a moment. In 9th grade, I made the important discovery of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Prior to reading that novel, all I read were Goosebumps, comics, and space operas. With Of Mice and Men, I first intimated that fiction was capable of so much more than thrills and chills. I then switched gears completely and spent much of the next year reading as many classics as my young mind could handle. After a time though, and I hate to admit this, the classics became tiresome. This is where Mr. Bradbury comes in.
I had definitely heard of Ray Bradbury before, and I may have even read some of his work when I was very young, but he wasn’t a big name to me. I was more interested in books with embossed titles or holograms on the cover. Later, I only read books that were by authors who were 100 years in the grave or more. Finally, I can’t remember how exactly, I decided to pick up a collection of his short stories.
Here is where I learned of Ray Bradbury’s greatness: he took the exciting, imaginative stories I loved as a child and added to them his own particular brilliance, effortlessly blending what I loved about fantasy, sci-fi, and horror with poetic prose and deeply humanist ideals.
Much time has passed since then. I almost never read science fiction anymore, and I haven’t picked up a single book by John Steinbeck in more than five years. I do, however, constantly return to the work of Ray Bradbury. Since I first appreciated him back in junior high, not a year has gone by where I haven’t read at least a handful of stories by him.
In all of the years I have been a fan of Ray Bradbury’s, I have had to pace myself when it comes to reading his work. I don’t want there to come a time where I simply have nothing to read by him that I haven’t read before. Thankfully, the good man lived to be 91, and wrote diligently for so much of his life. Taking a cursory glance at his bibliography, I realize that running out of his writing, even posthumously, won’t be much of a problem. There’s simply so much. There’s few great writers I can think of whom you can read your entire life and not read the same tale twice. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Henry James and Ray Bradbury. Illustrious company indeed.
Still, I have set aside a few of Ray’s books to read and savor on a future date, saving me something to look forward to. This may shock some of the readers, but I have not, to this day, read Farenheit 451. I only read The Martian Chronicles a year or two ago (that’s a masterpiece by the way, and it’s one of the only two books I’ve read to deal with Native American heritage in a relevent way, the other book being The House of Seven Gables).
When I found out, on Twitter of all places, that Ray Bradbury died today, it wasn’t the same as a writer I like dying. I have had that experience too many times now. Many of my absolute favorite writers have died in the past decade, including Kurt Vonnegut Jr., David Foster Wallace, John Updike, and Saul Bellow. Bradbury’s work though is closer to me because he’s the only novelist whom I read as a child and as an adult; he bridges the gap from my early years to my later intellectual development, and I’ll have to say, he was a catalyst.
Now, I’m a writer too. When I wrote my first book The Madness of Art: Short Stories, I included three stories written in a style that combined sci-fi style plots with ample doses of literary high-mindedness. Without Ray Bradbury, I doubt I would have found such a synthesis even possible. So I owe him there too.
I would like to say that although I never met Ray Bradbury, his death was similar to that of a friend, with the difference being that I’ve actually known his work longer than I’ve known any of my friends. He was a friend though. He was a friend to young people and to adults; he could entertain and enlighten; he wrote stories you would imitate, and would frustrate you when your work paled in comparison. Most importantly, he was a friend to readers–perhaps the best we’ll ever know.
Rest in peace Ray Bradbury. Thanks for all the memories.