Stories that stick with you over the years do so because they have some sort of truth in them, something that reaches beyond the characters in those pages. While I remember a lot of the books I’ve read over the years, there are some that stick with me a little bit more. Two of those stories are from none other than Ray Bradbury himself, who passed away at the age of 91 this week.
Fahrenheit 451 is a classic for a reason, and it’s remained in my mind since I read it in high school. While most everyone is familiar with the premise (and if you’re not, I urge you to pick it up if you have any passion whatsoever for the written word), what I took away from the book was — and still is — this: ideas are important. Maybe the most important thing in the world. Ideas are so powerful, in fact, that there are people out there who want to stop you from having them, and sometimes, they go to extremes to make that happen.
As much as Fahrenheit 451 remains in my head, it’s really Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day” that stays in my heart. This is story that’s repeatedly asked about on library listservs and in “what was that book” forums on the internet. People remember a story that took place on Venus that had something to do with sunshine, and there was a girl locked in a closet. If you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, you can find the full-text here. It’s a story about how cruel children (and people) can be, about how an idea can raise suspicions within the minds of others, about how the ideas of others can also make people reconsider their own thoughts and actions. The premise is similar to Fahrenheit 451, though the execution is entirely different.
Ray Bradbury shared much more than these two stories with us. His bibliography includes titles like Dandelion Wine, which resonated with me in high school since it took place in a town not too dissimilar from my own small town in Illinois; The Martian Chronicles; The Illustrated Man; Something Wicked This Way Comes; and more. He had a number of his works developed into films, and he wrote the screenplay for the 1953 adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (starring Gregory Peck). He helped develop an aviation magazine, too, called AVIAN, along with many other projects.
These are all just a part of who he was, though. Bradbury was a tireless advocate for readers and for ideas. He fought hard and was outspoken as a supporter of libraries, where he believed he’d received his best education. There is a wonderful piece up at Waukegan Public Library’s website about his belief in the value of libraries — Waukegan’s library was Bradbury’s hometown library. You can read a few other great posts about Bradbury’s dedication to libraries and reading here and here. Read about how he touched the lives of others here and here.
Bradbury’s death comes after a long life of sharing stories about those who think, act, and live fully, even in the midst of being told they can’t. What he left wasn’t just a body of science fiction; what he left was the notion that every idea matters and every idea has a piece of the truth within it. That people are important and valuable, that we should cultivate love and respect for them and for their ideas.
I spent a few hours reading through Bradbury quotes in hopes of finding just the right one to sign off with, and I think it’s this:
We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
— Kelly Jensen, who has read and reread “All Summer in a Day” many times this week.