Last week, a voice of great imagination and purpose was silenced after 91 years. Ray Bradbury, author of more than 500 short stories, novels, plays, television series and films, passed away late June 5.
Though he suffered a stroke in 1999, Bradbury continued to work on his craft, writing every day in the basement of his Los Angeles home. His work spanned genres, though much of his work was fantasy. He resisted the science fiction stamp on his work, noting he didn't apply reality to his writing. He helped to bring the genre out of the magazines and into the libraries, which was where he spent much of his time, reading the works of others and penning his own.
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled," Bradbury said. "The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out."
That's what he did, taking all the dreams and imaginations of his youth, adding some fantastic plot twists and turns. His first book, The Martian Chronicles, weaved tales of colonists fleeing Earth and the conflicts with their new Martian neighbors. It's not a novel, Bradbury said. It's a "book of stories pretending to be a novel." That made it perfect for adaptation to radio, television and even comic books.
I came to know Bradbury later in life, somehow missing him growing up. His books weren't required reading in my schools and I didn't see him among the books on the shelves at home. Fortunately, someone loaned me a copy of Fahrenheit 451 a few months before I graduated from college. I marveled that someone who adored reading and books and libraries, such as myself, could have missed this classic for so many years, and I lobbied that my journalism professors add it to the curriculum in a class or two.
While not about journalism, it is about censorship and the dangers that come with not protecting our right to read and learn about new ideas and philosophies, whether or not we agree with them.
Written in 1953, Bradbury set his cautionary tale in a future populated by people who look to their wall-size televisions for pointless entertainment and tune out with Seashell Radios on their ears. Firemen no longer put out fires, but start them, burning books that have been deemed objectionable.
In this world, some sinister force didn't come to power and declare books public enemy no. 1. People just stopped caring and stopped reading. When they stopped paying attention, those in power saw the chance to start censoring ideas and speech. Those who love books have become outlaws and renegades, memorizing portions of great books in order to keep them from being forever lost.
Bradbury was a believer in books, even before he began writing his own on typewriters rented for 10 cents a half hour. He said he wasn't able to go to college, so he completed his education by going to the library and reading everything he could.
He saw the American love affair with technology begin, and saw that it could have disastrous consequences, with people turning to their computers and gadgets instead of each other for camaraderie and comfort. Those Seashell Radios, which were nothing but a figment of his imagination in 1953, became our personal radios and earphones. Those wall-sized TVs are today's home theater systems that can take up an entire wall with a flat-screen TV. "I don't try to describe the future," he once said. "I try to prevent it."
He resisted the move toward digital books and replacing human interaction with digital news feeds from friends. He said electronic books "smell like burned fuel" and told the New York Times the Internet was "a big distraction."
He's not wrong. The Internet, while a valuable tool for increasing knowledge and sharing ideas, is littered with sites that do nothing but suck away precious time. And e-books? I prefer my books to be the paper and print kind.
But Bradbury and I were a growing minority and, last year, he agreed to allow Fahrenheit 451 to be released in digital format. I guess he decided that the ideas were more important than the form that people used to receive them.
"There are worse crimes than burning books," he once said. "One of them is not reading them."
Now, a whole new generation can curl up with their e-book and enjoy a fantastic journey with Bradbury leading the expedition. Happy reading!
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Heather Mullinix is the assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.