On Saturday at 4:30 PM, Ray Bradbury was wheeled onto the stage of Royce Hall after having been nicely introduced by a longtime friend who told stories about their pasts and how he brought Bradbury to a restaurant on the Left Bank of Paris where they had a giant book of author's signatures and asked the maitre-de if he could sign it and the maitre-de said, "qui?" And later he signed it, in the same book that Moliere had once signed.
Bradbury is 82 years old. He was born in Waukegan, IL, so I explained to the cute Asian-American freshman Neuroscience major from Northern California who sat next to me. I sort of went off to her to kill the time before Bradbury would be introduced. I talked about how Bradbury and Dave Eggers and I were all from the same area, and I talked about how F. Scott Fitzgerald had written about the Market Square area in Lake Forest, IL 80 years before I would frequent that locale, and I talked about how being in the same place as something else that happened long before it, and knowing that it had been recorded, had a value which approached indefinability. This would later be a prescient point, as Bradbury would tell how he completed Farenheit 451 in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, 200 yards from where we sat, renting out typewriters for .10 per half hour. He said he got a big bag of dimes (at which point everyone burst out laughing) and wrote the first draft with $9.80. He also said they should give him some sort of plaque for that, and everyone burst out laughing at that too. He also talked about how he lives forever and I think everyone in the audience found his speech very inspiring, but more on that later, I have been caught on a digression about the girl who I sat next to. I talked about Kerouac, because I'm reading Desolation Angels (on page 226) and I told her she should just find an author she likes and read as many books by them as she can. It's better than just trying to seek out all the masterpieces. Otherwise, it's hard to find a lot of books you really like. She told me she read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and I told her I couldn't see what all the fuss was about him, and she said she just liked his style, and I asked her what she meant by his style, and it was hard for her to define, but we basically came to the conclusion that she meant readability, going from line to line without being jarred, or something to that effect. Like saying, now I'm listening to "Grinding Halt" by the Cure, and it just seems to fit?...I also told her that Desolation Angels took place in San Francisco and we also talked about how seemingly bizarre pockets of the USA hold random massive immigrant populations--like how her area in California was heavily Asian, and how most of her high school classmates were Asian. It is just further proof that the American identity is a constantly expanding catalog of nations, with the only shared element being a language that is a) used decreasingly, and b) used improperly, and c) spoken with a regional accent rather than an ethnographic one. There is very little we all have in common anymore beyond our style of speaking. You may say, what about east coast/west coast hip-hop feuds, and I will point to their language. Maybe I am not able to pick up on the subtle differentiations of "street talk" from one coast to the other (and the middle thrown in for good measure), but in all my experience the differences are minute. The words are the same, the attitudes are the same, the tone is the same. Only the truly salient individual with the ability to communicate their unique perspective as an "anomaly" will be able to separate themselves from the crowd, and there is such a fear these days about not being "with the crowd!" Perhaps this will come into play more precisely when I talk about the "Agent's Voices" Panel that I saw yesterday. But I still have to report on Bradbury, and also the "Serious Fiction" Panel I saw featuring Tobias Wolff, Jane Smiley and Ron Carlson.
Bradbury name-checked Federico Fellini (who embraced him and cried, "My twin!"), John Huston (who hired him to write the screenplay for Moby Dick in Dublin), Bernard Berenson (a Renaissance historian who invited him to Italy, began a lengthy correspondence, and became a surrogate father to him), Aldous Huxley (who proclaimed, "You are a poet!" to him), Gene Kelly (who appreciated his praise of "Singin' in the Rain") and probably a few others I am forgetting. He said he was a novelist, short story writer, poet, and screenwriter (and mentioned that most of his novels might just as well be screenplays), but above all, what had served him better than any other pursuit, he made abundantly clear, was being a lover of different things. If there was a theme or narrative thread running through his hour-long monologue, it was this. His loves of film, magic, the planet Mars, and libraries led him towards events, colloborations and art works which would have their seeds sometimes two or three decades prior to their actualization.
I am not a heavy Bradbury reader--I have only read "Zen and the Art of Writing," which I made clear to a few people was probably not the best "teach-you-how-to-write" book. However, it is probably as good as any other (the only one I can think that is actually canonical is John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction"). I read a short story about a strangler in small town USA, the first story in a collection of his that my family had in their library. I never read Farenheit 451, the Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc. I'm not all that familiar with Bradbury's work actually, but I felt in reading "Zen..." I got an idea of the sort of writer he was. While I am not necessarily going to rush out and buy them all, I feel I owe it to myself to at least read Farenheit. Regardless, the man in person was a very huge presence. There were deafening standing ovations for both his entrance and exit off the stage. There were lessons to be learned from his talk, however upon reflection I feel as if he oversimplifies things and is way more positive than anybody else is. But for the hour of the talk, you could say he held the audience in the palm of his hand. One could say he is a very happy person, and it was rewarding in a way just to see him talk about how lived the way he did because he did what he loved all along. Nobody walked out of that thing thinking, "I should just give it up; literature is useless now."