I don't remember exactly how old I was the day I read my first Bradbury story. I know I'd already cut my teeth on Lord of the Rings, worked my way through the Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew and consumed almost everything Mark Twain ever wrote. Jane Eyre convinced me that I wasn't alone and Jane Austin convinced me that men would get better as I got older.
But it wasn't enough. I needed more. I needed to consume. The librarian's recommendations, though helpful, weren't filling that deep need for... I don't know... something different. Something transcendent. I was formulating my concept of what was possible with literature and I was desperate for books that would challenge me in unique ways.
His stories were recommended to me by a unprecedented source: my father. Close as we were, my father and I never talked books. Oh, my dad read now and then, still does, but not in the same hungry, all consuming way my mother, sister and I did. For us reading was an addiction. For him it was an occasionally pleasant way of passing time. So, when he handed me the Martian Chronicles, in my teenage, judgy way, I raised my eyebrows.
But Dad was serious about it. "Bradbury is so good," he said to me, "I loved him when I was a boy."
"Is this a boy book?" I wondered. After all, it had one of those old-fashioned, nerdy sci-fi covers I'd learned to avoid. It was about... aliens? And... spaceships? Really? I mean, I was down for fairies and unicorns, hobbits and dwarfs, but the colonization of a foreign planet was a bit much.
Don't judge me. I was still learning to embrace my inner nerd.
All of this to say - I read it. I read it and then I read it again. I read Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and more. Bradbury's writing was some of the most vivid I had ever come across. You could almost sense him chuckling as he ran his fingers over the keys. His prose was never strained or tormented, but rushed through your brain with sweet inevitability. It was kind. It wanted to share new worlds with you, wanted to let you in on the joke. It found its inspiration in creativity and joy. Even when scary or twisted, there was still a joyfulness to being scared. There was no mistaking the fact that Ray Bradbury loved to write.
Since becoming a rough approximation of an adult, I've revisited Bradbury's work many times. I've read his essays on writing and learned a great deal from them. I've learned to be jealous of his marvelous brain and grateful for his dedication to craft. I've journeyed multiple times into the worlds he created, always finding something to celebrate, something to learn from and something to aspire to. Life is bigger, richer and stranger when you're reading one of his books. Bradbury is the ultimate definition of what I would love to be: a generous artist with the courage to charge on. Dad was right. Bradbury is good. He's really good.
And that's why I can't be too saddened by his death. Sure, I mourn the fact that there will be no more stories, no more quiet knowledge that somewhere in the world Ray Bradbury is thinking about something exciting. But death should never be considered a tragedy for someone who so thoroughly ruled at life. Someone whose influence will be felt far beyond our ability to comprehend.
Thank you, Dad, for handing me that book all those years ago and thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for including all of us in your dreams.