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Ray Bradbury Died, And It’s Personal

As you undoubtedly know, Ray Bradbury died. Of course I never met the man, but in his death I am learning much about him. For example, when he was twelve years old he visited a travelling carney and was “baptised” with electricity by Mr. Electrico who shouted “Live Forever!” The next day he went back to the carney to ask Mr. Electrico about this living forever thing and was told that he, Ray, possessed the soul of his, Mr. Electrico’s, best friend who died during World War I. The next day Bradbury began writing and apparently wrote every day of his life until he died at 91. However, while I had never met Bradbury, his death nonetheless feels somehow personal. The thing is this: Ray Bradbury, and other science fiction authors, taught me to love reading and revere books.

Ray BradburyAs a child I hated reading, to the point of having a rather unpleasant physical reaction when picking up a book (I can’t describe it, but it was definitely real and no fun). The reason for this hatred of reading was simple: I was bad at it. Until I reached the fifth grade my teachers either didn’t give a damn or actually humiliated me in front of my peers by mocking me while reading aloud during lessons (do teachers still make kids read out loud in class?). I remember vividly a teacher announcing to all in the class, as I stumbled along trying to read from a book held in my trembling hands, that I was very stupid. Fortunately, in the fifth grade I had a teacher who discovered I couldn’t read to save my live and quickly excused me from the humiliation of reading lessons. I can’t remember her name, but I can still see her face. She invited me to her home on Saturdays and, while feeding me tapioca pudding, she and her daughter, who was much younger than I was, taught me to read. That wonderful woman saved me.

The first book I ever read cover to cover was Powder Keg: A Story of The Bermuda Gunpowder Mystery by Donald E. Cooke (illustrated by Harve Stein). A few years ago I searched the internet for a copy and found one! It is now a prized possession. While this revolutionary war story of young Tom Rawlins helping to bring gunpowder from Bermuda to Boston to fight the evil Brits was my first book, it was the discovery of science fiction that resulted in my love for reading. I devoured sci fi, sometimes reading until four in the morning. My family didn’t have much money back then so it was difficult to satiate my desires. When the library failed me I would use my meager allowance to buy sci fi paperbacks. I even considered turning to a life of crime. One day I took a fat hardback book (I don’t remember where I got it) and cut a hole in the pages the size of a typical mass market paperback. I planned go the bookstore, discretely place my chosen sci fi adventure in the hardback and then nonchalantly leave. In the end I couldn’t do it, perhaps more out of the fear of being caught then the longing to preserve my moral integrity. Nonetheless, I read so much science fiction that one day my father sat me down to share his concern that reading so much fanciful narratives written by so many questionable characters was warping my understanding of reality and would be, in some way he never explained, detrimental to my wellbeing. I remember saying to him, “But Dad, I’m reading!” And with that, looking rather sad, he let me continue. And so I did.

Dandelion Wine. Something Wicked This Way Comes. One More for the Road. The Illustrated Man. From the Dust Returned. The Martian Chronicles. I Sing the Body Electric! A Medicine for Melancholy. Quicker Than the Eye. And of course, Fahrenheit 451.

Without these books I may never have learned to love reading and books, and eventually writing. Without Bradbury’s imagination I might not have pondered and pursued the ephemeral notion that somehow creativity is a defining aspect of what it means to be human. And surely I would never have realized that if I wanted to become the person I hoped I could be, I would have to embrace creativity as if my life depended upon it (something, by the way, that I’m still trying to do well).

What am I without the imagination to create? Not much, I think. I am not saying that my humanness is determined by my being able to create well, like Ray Bradbury. If that were so I’d be in big trouble. No, it is not that I must create brilliantly to be me, but rather that being me is discovered and shaped in the process of my being creative. So, thanks to the man I never met, but whose imagination was life affecting and whose passing is personal.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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