This summer I have experienced a few works of fiction by the famous author Ray Bradbury, and I decided to post a few of my thoughts.
The only work of Bradbury’s that I had read before this summer is his short story, “All Summer in a Day.” This is one of my favorite works of short fiction. The setting is a space colony on the planet Venus, where torrential rain and thunderstorms fill the skies all year round, and the sun only shines for one hour every seven years. Among a group of school children, only a girl named Margot remembers the last time the sun came out. She waits with quiet apprehension as the day of sunshine approaches, while the other children make fun of her, because they remember nothing of the sun. If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you read it now (it shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes). The tragedy of the story and the beauty of its telling is really wonderful. Here is a link to the PDF:
The next time I experienced Bradbury’s artistry was two months ago, when I read Fahrenheit 451. This turned out to be one of my favorite books, ranking 4th, below Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (yes, I have an ordered list of all my favorite books). I greatly enjoyed Bradbury’s clear, simple style, which, while not exceedingly pretty, conveys images powerfully. The setting is fascinating: a decadent society under an oppressive government, with certain individuals struggling to perpetuate the wisdom that humanity has acquired. Montag’s outer quest for knowledge and inner quest for understanding are admirably portrayed. All this is combined with vivid characterization and the resonant theme that humanity’s hope lies in knowledge and remembrance of our past – that we must understand ourselves, and perpetuate that understanding, if we wish to survive and advance to a higher state of being. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me qualities like these make for one heck of a book! I couldn’t put it down until I finished it, and then I wished there was more.
A couple of weeks ago, remembering how much I enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, I decided to look for more Bradbury at my library. I ended up checking out a collection of short stories entitled One More for the Road. It was a jumble of all sorts of stories – from sad to funny, from touching to somewhat horrific, from mundane to otherworldly. Some of the stories I found cryptic or just too weird for me, but I really enjoyed several of them. I’ll go over some of those here:
- “The Dragon Danced at Midnight.” A humorous story about Willis Hornbeck Junior, the operator of a film projector whose drinking habits cause him to play film reels out of order. The public loves his new “artistic” style of rearranging movies, and he becomes famous throughout the nation… for a while.
- “The Nineteenth.” A sad tale of two men who meet while collecting lost golf balls from a course. The men are father and son, but the father has virtually no recollection of his son at all (whether from Alzheimers, or some other problem, the story does not say). Somewhat cryptic, but I enjoyed it anyway.
- “The F. Scott/Tolstoy/Ahab Accumulator.” A half-serious story based on the half-serious idea of traveling back in time to find great authors who lived and died miserably, and change their lives for the better. Scientifically speaking, I’m sure there are all sorts of problems with this, but it definitely makes for a good story! The protagonist helps Leo Tolstoy escape from his domestic problems, tries to re-inspire Melville, and attempts to dissuade Ernest Hemingway from committing suicide.
- “With Smiles as Wide as Summer.” A playful story told through the eyes of a six-year-old, describing his adventures on one happy summer day.
- “Autumn Afternoon.” My favorite story in the collection, this one is about a young girl named Juliet who wants to remember every day that goes by, and her old aunt who finds she has more in common with her niece than she thought. Can each day really be as special as Juliet says it is?
While several of Bradbury’s short stories did not appeal to me, some of the others were beautiful, the kind of story that could be read over and over without getting old. I was stunned by the mastery of Fahrenheit 451, but since it is the only novel of his that I’ve read, I haven’t got a very large sample to judge Bradbury from. I plan to read another eventually, (perhaps Dandelion Wine, or The Martian Chronicles) to get a more complete idea of his writing, and I will most likely post a review when I do.
Thanks for reading!
© Samuel Birrer and Serendipity, 2013.