Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury‘s writings captured my interest as a child and fueled my passion for reading.  He was at his best as a short story writer.  His Martian Chronicles (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) were remarkable books.  Martian Chronicles was as I remember a wistful, lyrical memory of lost settlements on the Red Planet.  As an adolescent reader I returned to these stories repeatedly, seeking to regain the kind of experience I had when I first read them.  This was one of Bradbury’s best works, and in my reading experience he never equaled it.  I read book after book by Bradbury, hoping to find again that experience of The Martian Chronicles, but it was never there.  I’m afraid to reread the book now, fearful that my immature adolescent reading created in my mind a work that would no longer exist if I read the stories again 

Fahrenheit 451 shows how totalitarian regimes stifle free expression, control individual lives, and censor literature and readers.  Written with the recent memory of the McCarthy hearings, and of the Nazi regime, which was notorious for censorship and book banning among much worse evils, Fahrenheit 451 celebrated the passion of readers, the community of those who read and its essential relationship to individual lives.  It was prescient in its suggestion that technology would become all dominant, often oppressive, in our lives.  Truffaut’s 1968 film adaptation of the novel was good, I thought.  Other Bradbury story collections I read included The Illustrated Man (1951) and Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), and novels such as Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Although I still occasionally read and enjoy Bradbury, much of his work strikes me as aimed towards a younger audience.  There’s a derivative, sophomoric quality to his political and philosophical musings.  His work can be uneven—he wrote a great deal and apparently didn’t hesitate to publish work that wasn’t his best.  The influence of Thomas Wolfe is sometimes apparent—the mawkish, excessively lyrical and ebullient Wolfe.  Walt Whitman is also an influence.

Still, Bradbury was a science fiction writer who brought occasional moments of fine prose to his work, which aspired to be, and sometimes was, the best of its genre.

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