Perhaps the daughter said it best this evening, "You know it's coming--he was old--but it's so sad when they go."
And losing Ray Bradbury elicited a loud and heartfelt, "Oh, no!" from me this morning.
As a child, a young adult, I was a reader. I devoured books, read one fast and grabbed another. I was voracious for story and character. In some ways, it's a miracle that I remember anything I read--it wasn't unusual for me to read four to six books in a day--but there were those authors that stayed with me, the ones who painted landscapes with words, the ones who turned emotion into stark reality.
The very best authors open doors, allowing us to peek into other times and live in other worlds while keeping us grounded with a commonality of experience.
A paperback copy of Farenheit 451 sat on my parents' end table for a long time. My mother would read--historical novels and later, bodice rippers--but my father couldn't be persuaded to pick up a book, and a small pile of unread material accumulated. I wasn't supposed to read my parents books, but I remember picking up Farenheit 451, first just to read the back cover, later to read the blurb in the front, and finally, to read the story.
The Hound scared the hell out of me. I can still envision that nightmare creature, all metal and needles, that my 10-year-old self envisioned while I read. And when I finished, quailing inwardly after my first encounter with dystopian literature, I started it again.
Because that's what you do with Bradbury. Read it again.
I can't say how many times I've read Farenheit 451. Five? Six? But I reread it a few years ago, and was left with a sense of deep unease at how profoundly prescient it felt: in-ear radios and TV walls? While book burnings and bannings continue, the desire to attack knowledge itself is far more disturbing. (Un)Intelligent Design, anyone?
I've written it before, but there is no better evocation of the sensation of wearing new sneakers than Bradbury's description in Dandelion Wine. Reading that passage so many years ago, I was immediately thrown back to a very particular moment in my own childhood as I sprang and bounced on the sidewalk outside the Sprouse Reitz in a brand new pair of Keds, marveling at the sensation of new rubber souls. I was captivated by a gorgeously captured childhood moment that preceded my own by decades, but mirrored it so very perfectly.
Bradbury wrote so much and I read so much of what he wrote: The Martian Chronicles, the short stories contained in The Illustrated Man and October Country--October Country! The very title pulls you into territory that is eerily familiar and completely alien--more that I know I'm missing at the moment. But none of his books sang to me in quite the way that Something Wicked This Way Comes did, another book I've read over and over, always discovering something new in the terror and poignance of those pages. I remember vividly the first time I finished the book. I was babysitting, and it was late evening in the summer. The back of this family's house was all windows, and a thunderstorm was brewing. The real house creaked and the wind moaned as I read about the demonic carousel, and the fiendish carnival. While branches lashed in the book, they were really thrashing out in the backyard. And even though I was 17, I felt again the primal fear of childhood nightmares, and while the goosebumps rose on my arms, I still couldn't put the book down. And when I finished, awash in the joy and fear of childhood, the terrors of the inevitable march that is growing up, the ineffable sorrows of adulthood, I started to read it again.
Because that is what you do with Bradbury.
Read it again.
Go listen to some good music: "Half Light 1" from the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.