Ray Bradbury Dies At 91
Ray Bradbury passed away last night in his Cheviot Hills home. He was 91 years-old.
Bradbury is best known for his dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, the original version of which he wrote in nine days on a pay typewriter (10 cents an hour) in the UCLA library. Widely hailed as a masterpiece, most interpret the novel, which deals with a future where firemen are employed to track down and burn books, as a work of anti-censorship. In fact, the book is so widely interpreted this way that the cover of the paperback copy I’ve owned since early adolescence reads: “The classic bestseller about censorship — more important now than ever before.” Bradbury, however, always insisted that the books’ inspiration came from the idea that television would ruin people’s desire to read by destroying their attention span to the point where no one would be interested in books anymore. The culprit in Fahrenheit 451, according to Bradbury, is not the government but the people — who have lost all interest in literature. He famously stormed out of a UCLA lecture where a class told him to his face that his interpretation was wrong and that the book was really about censorship.
While it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t somewhat prophetic in his views on television’s effects on the average person’s attention span, it’s also worth noting that Bradbury himself dabbled in the medium. He adapted one of his short stories, “I Sing The Body Electric!” into a classic episode of The Twilight Zone in 1963 and later even had his own showcase, The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran for two seasons on HBO and four more on USA — from 1985-1992. Those are just two examples: his stories were often re-interpreted for the small screen.
It seems somewhat paradoxical that the man who predicted the invention of the wall-mounted flat-screen television, virtual reality and the iPod should disdain technology, but that certainly seemed to be the case. In addition to Bradbury’s public disdain for television, he recently made it clear he’s not a fan of the Internet either, which he deemed “a distraction.” He told The New York Times in 2009, “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’” Recently he relented and allowed Fahrenheit 451 to be published as an e-book, but only if it was made available to libraries free of cost.
After graduating high school Bradbury couldn’t afford a college education and instead spent long nights at the local library educating himself. He liked to say he graduated the library at age 28. “Libraries raised me,” Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money.” Bradbury spent much of his last years championing the cause of local libraries, as these institutions faced (and continue to face) increasing difficulty procuring the funding necessary to operate.
Despite his curmudgeonly stance on emerging technologies, Bradbury was far from a bitter man. Rather, refreshingly, he seemed delighted to have had the chance to spend a lifetime doing the work he loves. “Everything has been an accident,” he said in an interview not long ago. “Everything has been unplanned. Everything has been a passion, madness, a great love. I’ve had fun all of my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
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