The news that Ray Bradbury passed away this week hit close to home for several reasons. Bradbury, though born in Waukegan, had long ago qualified as an Angelino native. I had seen him several times at UCLA Live music events at Royce Hall, and by now most people know what a great supporter he was of the LA Library system and the arts in general. Self-educated – he was a Depression era kid who couldn’t afford college, Bradbury had little use for university writing programs. He immersed himself in literature of all types and wrote prolifically, keeping to a self-imposed regimen of 1,000 words a day even, by all accounts, into his eighties. I thought it was ironic that, on his death, the obituary writers all flocked to literature professors to assess his impact. Better they should have gone to a library and asked some kid sitting at a carrel, reading a story from Something Wicked This Way Comes, or The Cat’s Pajamas.
Those of us who have written in “genres” have a special admiration for someone who elevates the writing into something special, at least in the eyes of the literary establishment. Bradbury didn’t consider himself a science fiction writer, but let’s not quibble. How many of us were drawn into reading by futuristic stories, or tales of fantasy with a touch of the macabre? When I was a teenager it was Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, not to mention Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe. That literature, often in the form of short stories perfected by Bradbury and others, has stoked the imagination of countless kids, not just for literature but for science, art, math, the whole academic spectrum. In these days of recession, huge public debts and talk of austerity, the arts are always the first to face budget cuts, as if cutting off the dreams and inspirations of kids will somehow make us more productive. Bradbury knew how ridiculous that concept was.
It was also ironic that Bradbury, the personification of futuristic writing, had such little use for the Internet and insisted for the longest time that his work not be available as E-books. But really, who can blame him? His life had been shaped in libraries, the physical act of holding a book and reading it was central to his existence. And truthfully, even for those of us who somewhat reluctantly embrace the new technology, the comfort of holding a dog-eared book (even if it has been dog-eared by someone else) remains at the core of our experience.
Reading a story by Bradbury was always a pleasure, the release of a new collection, usually including some older gems, was always a literary event. He loomed above the artistic community here, like an extra sun on a fictional planet. Or maybe a full moon on Halloween, grinning at us as he typed another thousand words.
We’ll miss him.