Something Lovely This Way Comes: RIP Ray Bradbury and Jane Austen

Dear Reader:

You may have heard that Ray Bradbury died this week at 91 years old.  The New York Times gave him a great sendoff with the honor of a very informative, complimentary obituary.

Ray Bradbury

Bradbury was one of my favorite writers in my youth.  I first found his stories at the Gilbertsville Free Library and then even more of his work as an undergraduate at my university library.  By about 1980, I’d read all his work to that date.

Growing up in a tiny upstate New York village, I related to Bradbury’s tales of fictional “Green Town” (a stand-in for his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois). Bradbury had a way of conveying the spirit of a small town that I’ve not seen replicated in any other writer’s work.  At once idyllic and oppressive, gorgeous and depressing, village life is a mix and he shows it.  Not only was Bradbury a genius of the rural, he also included the moralistic elements for which sci fi is famous and, as an idealistic young woman, I very much related to his beautifully written stories.

He is thought of as one of the master science fiction writers, but much of his work has little to no futuristic elements.  As his obit says, he loved movies and spent his 1920s and 30s childhood immersed in film.  And he pulled in some of those film ghouls into his work.  One of the first stories of his that I read was The Homecoming (note that I suspect the link points to a website posting his short story without permission).  It tells the story of Timothy, a young “normal” boy growing up in a vast family of monsters, vampires, ghouls and his sister Cecy whose talent is magically traveling the world and inhabiting the bodies of others through her thoughts.  The family is holding an important All Hallow’s Eve reunion and prepping for the big event.  Timothy is deeply saddened by how his normalcy doesn’t allow him to fit in with his family.  Nonetheless, he is excited that everyone is coming.  The story shows the love and support of his “Adam’s family” along with their looking down on him for his lack of “talent” (read: magical or supernatural powers), his dislike of blood drinking, and inability to sleep during the day like everyone else.  Timothy’s life flips our own lives on their heads and shows us that the desire to belong is universal.

As a young person, I was a bit of an outsider, drawn to dark music and books, feeling like I hadn’t found my niche.  And yet I loved the tiny village within which I grew up – it offered me a lot, including, largely, acceptance.  Somehow, Bradbury captured my complicated feelings in his stories.

So, today I went to my current public library (little of Bradbury’s work is available for Kindle) and checked out some of his books – I’d forgotten how much of his work was in short story form.

520) Twice 22 by Ray Bradbury, 1959 (hard copy, library)  A short story collection.

521) Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, 1957 (hard copy, library) – I remember this autobiographical novel of his childhood as particularly lovely.

522) Summer Morning, Summer Night by Ray Bradbury, 2008 (hard copy, library)  A more recent update of his stories about Green Town.

Rest in Peace, Ray, you gave us a lot.

Jane Austen

I finished up this biography of Austen by Claire Tomalin.

508) Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin (kindle, library)

As Tomalin says, it is hard to write Austen’s biography.  She left no diaries from her youth and her sister destroyed most of her letters after her death.  So, this biography is pieced together from the writing of others, some not part of her life (in order to give a sense of what her like might have been like).

At first, I enjoyed this book a lot.  I was interested in how life was lived in this time and Tomalin provides a nice entry point.  But then, at a certain point, the book became really dull.  Much of it is almost a event by event chronicle, like something that could have been lifted from a scheduler.  “X had three children, A, B, and C.  Then spent May traveling through the British countryside.  B married D and they had five children.”  This is totally made up, obviously, but gives a sense of much of the writing.

Somehow, Tomalin never brought Austen alive.  And this is so different from some of the other autobiographies I’ve read and discussed in this blog.  For instance, Kathryn Hughes’ great biography of George Eliot or Victoria Glendenning’s marvelous Anthony Trollope biography.

Some of the problem may have been me – Tomalin discusses the novels in some detail and I haven’t yet read them.  I’m sure that I’d be more transfixed if I had.  Nonetheless, this makes me a bit less likely to read Tomalin’s many other writer biographies.  But more eager to get on with reading some Austen – I’ve started Emma.

Happy reading, Ruby

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5 Comments

  1. Ray Bradbury – I guess everyone has to pass on eventually. He has left some great treasures. I’m sorry he won’t be around to add any more to his work but at 91 maybe he was ready for a new gig…you never know….

    • He WILL be missed. He had a long, productive career. I used to be driving phobic and I loved the fact that he was too – he never drove.

Trackbacks

  1. The List | A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books
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  3. Wow! Murder, Technology, and Ray Bradbury’s Prescience « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

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