Over the last few weeks I’ve become a compulsive reader of Ray Bradbury. I’d done the requisite reading of Fahrenheit 451 in high school but have no memory of reading. And I’ve had Illustrated Man on my shelf for years also not picking it up since quite nearly high school. I do that quite a bit. Someone asks have you read it? or what did you think? And I give them a blank look. I like to mention to students books that I’ve read though I have only the slightest memory of plot and characters. For some reason I can remember the HG Wells novels I’ve read but not much more when it comes to sci-fi. It wasn’t until a banned book reading a year or so ago–maybe two years ago my memory is strange–that I even thought about Bradbury. And because I want to write more sci-fi or because I want the House of Two Bears manuscript I worked on years back to have more of a dystopian edge I am drawn to Bradbury and his stories. Maybe it was because as a lit teacher we become snooty about sci-fi–we become elitist or so focused on literary fiction that we lose the “genres”. And it maybe because I’ve been reading Junot Diaz’ Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao most of the interview of Diaz we’ve watched in class reveal Diaz’ love for sci-fi–and even his acknowledgement page to that back of the novel shows the many thank you’s to teachers who exposed him to sci-fi novels. Reminds me of all the comic books and sci-fi movies I drowned in as a kid. I remember vhs tapes of poor quality–time travel and futuristic films.
What draws me to Bradbury today is how damn readable he is. That’s the only way I can describe it. As intelligent and as mind-blowing the book Chomsky Year 501 the Conquest Continues, the form just bores the crap out of me. I know that it is non-fiction and it is Chomsky and political and pretty brilliant in relating US history in relations with Central and South America but it puts me right out. Which is why I have it on my table near the couch and now near the bed. The “genres” or the sci-fi from Bradbury engages me and gets me turning pages. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 in days–which is lightning fast for me. Same thing with Illustrated Man. The form is engaging and concise and so energetic. Maybe that’s what I mean by readable. From scene to summary the pace is so elliptical–more so than Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays which is another book I’ve re-read lately and was cause for me to think about what is readable. And I don’t mean it panders tot he read–bradbury never dumbs down the story. In fact the pacing and the trajectory of each story and even in the novel seem to for you to turn the page to find the next direction or trajectory. Each decision and interaction of his characters is so weighted and conveyed so quickly you can’t help but jump on to the next chapter or next section. There was never a place in Fahrenheit 451 where I felt the pace slowed or the digressions wandered too far or strayed. Nothing seemed as important to me as getting to the next plot point–in nearly all of his work I re-read.
These are all thoughts on form–characterization that happens rapidly and deeply. Theme wise the notion on the importance of books for identity instead of the electronic culture or the distractions of popular culture is so powerful and somehow has entered my life after re-reading. Devices and or technology consuming or confusing identity–destabilizing self rather than creating a stronger sense of self. Wonder what he thinks of books on devices like the kindle or iPad. My thoughts are random but I’m more and more interested in the form and meaning of Bradbury’s writing.