Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Listening to Ray Bradbury. . .

Last week I spent four hours on the train in conversation with Ray Bradbury.

Well, not exactly. But it felt that way after reading - cover to cover - this fabulous new collection of interviews conducted by his biographer Sam Weller over the last decade. Bradbury will turn 90 this August and Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, just published by Melville House is a worthy tribute.

I should mention that I'm not one of Bradbury's avid fans (although I may well become one now). Like many of us, I'd read Fahrenheit 451 in high school but only a handful of short stories since. But - like Bradbury - I am a film buff and my initial motivation for reading these interviews was, quite frankly, to indulge in some old Hollywood gossip and find out what he thought of Francois Truffault's movie version of Fahrenheit 451, which despite being often panned by diehard Bradbury fans, I think is quite an interesting film. (Bradbury by the way likes the film, with reservations - we both agree it has a terrific score by Bernard Herrmann).

I got plenty of the film anecdotes I was looking for, (Bradbury wrote the screenplay for John Huston's Moby Dick and has some good stories about working with the fabled director) but so much more. Bradbury is just a great storyteller, even in an interview, and his incredible energy, bluntness, encyclopedic memory, and love for life and writing is completely infectious. From his childhood meeting with a carnival performer called Mr. Electrico who sees in the twelve year old Ray the spirit of his best friend who died in WWI, to riding the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland with Charles Laughton who was doing Captain Bligh imitations, to his current views on education, public transportation, architecture and the Internet and e-books (all of which I was nodding in agreement), Bradbury's voice entertained, made me laugh and above all inspired. (Pair this book with the recent Everyman edition of The Stories of Ray Bradbury and you have the ideal graduation gift). Here is he is on being an optimist:
Well, if you're not going to be an optimist, you better not go on living. I mean, if you start every day saying, "I'm gonna lose," what kind of a day is that? . . . But I don't believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behaviour. That's a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don't know what you can do. You haven't done it yet. So that's optimal behaviour. And when you behave that way you have a feeling of optimism. There's a difference. Not to be optimistic, but to behave optimally. At the top of your lungs, shout and listen to the echoes. You must live life at the top of your voice!
And one of his tips for would-be writers:
I tell people, "Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them." When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.
I could quote on and on as my dog-eared copy will attest. If you are one of his avid fans, Bradbury divulges the inspiration behind many of his stories and novels. You'll also discover which movie he believes to be the best science fiction film of all time, who he would have picked over Gregory Peck to play Captain Ahab, and why he thinks Edgar Rice Burroughs is the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. The book is also beautifully designed with photographs of Bradbury's various collections of books, toys and other cultural memorabilia scattered throughout. Like its subject - this book is a treasure.
Sam Weller is currently on tour with the book - along with Bradbury himself! You can read about it on Weller's blog here. Look for some upcoming posts by Bradbury too.

1 comment:

Sam Weller said...

Thank you for the wonderful review!