Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Stories of Ray Bradbury

For many writers my age, and I mean writers of all kinds, Ray Bradbury was responsible for our first encounter with stories as rich with language as they were the telling itself. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man became high school staples throughout the country. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Ways Comes became novels accessible and appreciated by young readers of every taste. He became sui generis for high school English departments looking for a good writer students would enjoy reading.

To celebrate Bradbury's long and imposing career Knopf has published The Stories of Ray Bradbury in its Everyman's Library series. Essentially the books gathers stories from each of Bradbury's various collections over the years. Thus we have some of his finest stories ever gathered from his first collection Dark Carnival as a starting point and follow him through the stylist changes he made over the years.

As much as I like Bradbury--I still have Martin Chronicles and Illustrated Man on my the shelf next to my desk--when A Medicine for Melancholy appeared I saw the first tonal and stylistic changes immediately. So did my friend Doug Humble. I still remember the gist of our conversation after we'd both finished the book. We didn't much care for these new stories. They seemed self-conscious--written. Say what you will about his pulp days, the graceful writing, the striking Thomas Wolfeian images, came natural and supported the tale at hand. But these stories...

I didn't give up on Bradbury. As this collection demonstrates he remained a fine storyteller his entire career. There are pieces here from the eighties that are just as dazzling as many of his tales from the fifties. But it's always seemed to me that he decided that he was a poet and that that interfered with his natural process. To me too much of his poetry is posy.

There's an introduction by Christopher Buckley that offers no new information or insight so we are left with the book itself. And not only is it beautifully made but just about every story here honors the Bradbury legend. In a very real sense he's been a key writer to writers and readers of at least three generations and this collection is the ultimate tribute.

One more thing: I wish people, Bradbury included, would stop saying he's not a very good novelist. Anybody who wrote Death is A Lonely Business and A Graveyard For Lunatics after a three-decade career as a fantastist is a FIRST-RATE novelist. And a major contributor to the noir canon as well. Don't forget one of his favorite writers has always been Cornell Woolrich.

Thanks for a lifetime of great reading, Ray.


Richard Prosch said...

I agree, Ed. I've long thought Bradbury a first rate novelist. Sorry he didn't do more.

Ricky Sprague said...

One of my strangest memories of Los Angeles was the day I just happened to be walking along Hollywood Blvd and I came upon a scene outside the Larry Edmunds Book store. It was April 1, 2002, so I thought it might have something to do with April Fool's Day. It didn't, but it was still pretty strange--

--it was the dedication of Ray Bradbury's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mayor Jim Hahn spoke, to plug his citywide "One Book, One City" program (or something like that), in which the residents of Los Angeles were to be encouraged by government officials to all read the same book together. The first book was Fahrenheit 451, which of course is a very good, very entertaining book but seriously, are you going to get the whole city- a city of such diverse populations as Los Angeles- to read the same book for crying out loud? (The program lasted exactly two months, and I cannot remember what the second book was, but I still have my copy of F451, with the One Book One City sticker on the inside front cover.)

Jim Hahn by the way has the distinction of being the only LA mayor to lose his re-election bid. I'm not saying the One Book One City program hurt his campaign, but it certainly didn't help it.

Then, for some reason, Charlton Heston spoke. This was around the time that Mr. Heston, a fine and compelling actor and may he rest in peace, was starting to lose his faculties. Before he officially announced (just a couple of months later, I believe) that he was suffering from Alzheimer's, but it was still an uncomfortable sight. I mean, Mr. Heston himself didn't really know why he was there. He said something about reading old stories in pulp SF magazines like Weird Tales when he was a kid, and talking about it with Ray Bradbury whom he'd apparently just met five minutes before the ceremony.

"And I was delighted to learn that, yes, Ray used to write for those great magazines I read so long ago." (Not a direct quote, working from memory.)

I don't think that Mr. Heston had ever been in anything that Mr. Bradbury had written, or anything based on his works, and he didn't seem to know him at all. Why on earth was he there?

Rod Steiger also spoke. That man was a dynamo. I mean his speech was like the opposite of Mr. Heston's-- it was the speechifying equivalent of kicking someone's ass. He still looked like he could break me in two. And he had a real reason to be there-- he starred in the film adaptation of "The Illustrated Man." He really saved the whole ceremony, I thought.

And then he passed away a couple of months later.

I don't think Ray Bradbury himself spoke. He looked very frail. The entire time I kept thinking, "This guy wrote 'Something Wicked This Way Comes,' and 'Hail and Farewell,' and 'Fahrenheit 451' and THIS is the best the city of LA could do?"

Very strange.

Todd Mason said...

Ed, how much do you agree with the strong influence James Blish saw in young Bradbury of Theodore Sturgeon, as well?

Ed Gorman said...

Well Bradbury himself always said that he took apart Sturgeon and Woolrich to see what made their stories so magical and could never quite figure it out. His early debt to Sturgeon is pretty clear as is the one to Woolrich in his detective pulp years 40-45, the best of which are collected in Memory of Murder (?).

Todd Mason said...

A MEMORY OF MURDER, indeed. Palling around with Kuttner and Bloch, Brackett and presumably Hamilton and Moore did him no harm, either. The creeping
self-consciousness was occasionally used reasonably well ("The Watchful Poker Chip...", "The Dark"), but...I've never read a good Bradbury poem. I need to pick up a copy of MEMORY, if not this volume.

Doug said...

Thanks for the reminder of a conversation held over 50 years ago. Your introduction of analysis-of-reading while and after reading was a quantum intellectual leap for a naive Time-Check Iowa teenager. Ray Bradbury still rocks.

Anonymous said...

I heard Ray Bradbury speak at a Los Angeles book event in the late nineties. I was nearing forty at the time, and I was amazed at the energy and enthusiasm spouting from this elderly man. He made me want to WRITE. I agree that his prose is often over the top, but I think that's his enthusiasm getting the best of him.

Jeff P.

Anonymous said...

Charlton Heston had recorded one of Bradbury's poems for a multimedia exhibit in San Francisco in the 80's. It was inspiring.