Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thank you, Ray Bradbury

Today Ray Bradbury is a trending topic on the social media and news sites, which may be the greatest testament to the man's status as an enduring, timeless legend. Others can speak more eloquently about Bradbury's place in making pulp fiction respectable, in combining imagination with the highest literary values, and inspiring thousands and thousands of other writers. All I have is my personal experience.

It was in grade school, one of those English classes that are usually torture because you have to read dull stuff by people several centuries dead whose lives have nothing in common with yours. And somehow the reading text delivered this magical little story called "All Summer in a Day." It was one of the very first stories that touched me with the poignancy of existence. The other stories were vaguely affirming and comforting, or simply not real stories at all, leaving you in the same place you where when you started.

I didn't understand the story's mood at the time. I wasn't emotionally sophisticated nor creatively mature enough to catch even a glimmer of the truth and genius behind it. All I knew was it affected me and I thought about it a lot. What a revelation--every story didn't have to have a happy ending tied up in a neat bow! Because, even at that tender age, I understood that life didn't have a whole lot of happy endings.

And I suspect it must have had a great influence on the other kinds of stories I would soon seek out. Poignancy is a rare mood among the arts, especially modern arts. It is often replaced with by-the-numbers tugs of the heartstrings, explosive special effects and gimmicks, or senseless violence. Stories with quiet power are as rare as Margot's summer day in the story.

Best of all, the story is pretty much the same today as then, as it will be two hundred years from now. I don't know its copyright status, and now is not the time to scowl over digital distribution of someone's work, so here is a link if you want to read it. A story is ultimately made to be shared.

Ray Bradbury is really the only writer I ever wanted to meet. That never happened, but I met him just the same, in his words and ideas. Now I'm off to dig up some of my tattered Bradbury paperbacks and get lost in forever.

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Jared Sandman said...

"All Summer in a Day" is exactly the same Bradbury story my class read from our seventh-grade English textbook. My faves are probably "The Exiles" or "Marionettes, Inc."

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