“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.” Ray Bradbury. Something Wicked This Way Comes
I found out today that Ray Bradbury died at age 91. This was my immediate response:
Not the most thoughtful or poetic of tweets, I’ll admit. But I was reacting with my gut.
Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) has just written a lovely remembrance of Mr. Bradbury for the Guardian and you can read it here.
Similarly, the usually cheeky AV Club posted a straight up retrospective of his body of work.
I won’t be nearly as eloquent as Mr. Gaiman or as thorough as the AV Club, but Mr. Bradbury’s stories hold a special place in my heart and I do feel like another little bit of my childhood has slipped away today
When I was 11 or 12, the time my Dad got sick the first time, I would often find solace in reading about other places, other worlds. To escape a suddenly uncertain and unhappy home life, I would make my way down to the corner Shell station and buy short story collections like “Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine” and “Fantasy and Science Fiction”. I would delve into these things and read them from cover to cover. I suppose if I were sensible, I could have just asked my Mom to order me a monthly subscription to one of these things, but there was something fun about not knowing whether it would be there when you walked down (and even if it wasn’t there, the slush machine was always working, you know what I’m saying?) In particular I would always get excited if the cover advertised a new story (or old classic story for that matter!) by Ray Bradbury. I loved way he could describe settings and feelings, even in the stories that weren’t technically “science fiction” or “fantasy”. He just had a way with words and he could draw you in and maybe even more importantly deliver you from your current life, if only for the duration of the story.
When I was in first year university, our political science professor assigned us “Fahrenheit 451” to read. We were supposed to write up a report. I was still thinking in “high school” terms, and so I took a very structured, methodical approach to my report. I discussed things like main characters, protagonists, antagonists, conflict, climax, you name it! I’m sure my high school English teacher would have been proud, but the university prof wanted us to discuss the themes in the story as it related to political systems, free speech and thought, our addiction to the media, etc. I didn’t get a very good mark, but it wasn’t Ray Bradbury’s fault.
About four years ago, we were up at my wife’s cousin’s cottage north of Toronto for a few days. I had run out of things to read, so I was checking out the cottage bookshelves. You know the kinds of books you get at a cottage, right? Lots of musty Sidney Sheldons, Ken Follets, Agatha Christies with faded or missing covers. Amongst these I found an ancient paperback of “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, a book I hadn’t read in about 20 years. It was the perfect thing for me to get absorbed in as I crawled into my bunk at night, or sat dockside during the day. Oh, and it’s pretty cool that the library’s janitor becomes the big hero in the end. Oops, SPOILER, I guess.
I heard that the first book that Neil Gaiman ever spent his own money on was Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine”. I’ve never read that one, but guess who placed it on hold from the library today? Maybe I’ll toss it in my bag for our trip to Toronto at the end of the month.
So yeah, others have said it better, but let me just say THANK YOU MR. BRADBURY, from the 12-year-old me that still makes an appearance once in a while. June may be the best one of all, but this year it is a rare month.