Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ray Bradbury, Still Going at 90

THIS Sunday marks the 90th birthday of the first Los Angeles writer I ever read. I can still remember some of the images and moods in his story collection The October Country. And the yearning lyricism and use of The Red Planet as a metaphor for the American West makes The Martian Chronicles, some days, one of my 10 favorite works of fiction.

Critic Ted Gioia has a wide-ranging tribute to Bradbury on his blog Conceptual Fiction. It gets into Bradbury's earliest work, his Midwestern-to-Los Angeles life story, and his discomfort with the science-fiction genre.

HERE is a piece I wrote in 2003 that began this way:
Ray Bradbury is the first Los Angeles writer many people read. He's also the first reasonably serious writer -- someone concerned with political and moral themes -- many encounter. His early science-fiction novels and story collections have drawn readers, especially intellectually ambitious teenage boys, for a half-century now. Many of these Bradbury fans become lifetime readers, moving into all kinds of weightier fare, from the darker, more complicated science fiction of William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick to mainstream literary work without end. He's the ultimate gateway drug.

Despite my mixed feelings for Bradbury's recent work, he's one of the finest citizens of literary L.A., and it's appropriate that Fahrenheit 451 has become, especially lately, his most talked about and read novel -- even if its meaning has changed a bit with time. 

The threat the book lays out is not so much censoriousness as ignorance -- the sense that books are relics of the past. This man with minimal formal education has been a huge advocate for reading as well as for public libraries. As the husband of a school librarian laid off (like all of her peers) by the city of Pasadena -- this will likely result in us leaving the state in the next month or two -- I can assure everyone that Bradbury has better values than those directing institutions in contemporary California.

Long may he thrive. 


Milton said...

When I was 13 and could first use the adult library, he was a huge factor in my life!

"October Country" and "Martian Chronicles" are just terrific short stories for any age.

Scott Timberg said...

How cool that you encountered him in one of his favorite spots...