As some of you may know, Ray Bradbury and I go back a long way. Starting when I was about 10 I had dabbled with writing what I call closet fiction because I wrote it and put it in the closet, but after reading The Martian Chronicles in high school, I decided to make writing my life’s work.
I consider Ray Bradbury to be my mentor. I never met the man, although we did exchange a few letters. After the Chronicles, I devoured every Bradbury book I could find, and I sought out information about his life. As an English major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, I proposed writing an undergraduate thesis about the relationship of Bradbury’s early life to his writing. Professor Robert F. Bergstrom agreed to be my thesis advisor. I don’t think he’d ever read Bradbury, so while I was re-reading the stories, he read them for the first time.
It took two years to research and write Ray Bradbury: Space Age Visionary. Interestingly enough, you can find the thesis listed on Amazon with the rest of my books but with the disclaimer: Out of Print–Limited Availability. I scratched my head over that one. The thesis had never been published, and only six copies existed–I had one, my parents had one, Dr. Bergstrom had one, Gary Carey (my editor at Cliffs Notes) had one, special collections at UNL’s Love Library had one, and Ray Bradbury had one. I think Amazon got wind of it when one of their web-crawling spiders scrabbled their way over Love Library’s special collections.
It had never occurred to me to send Bradbury a copy. But (at the risk of being condemned for shameless name-dropping) Stephen King–who was passing through Lincoln on one leg of his The Dead Zone book tour–suggested I send him one. So I did. And I heard back from Bradbury within a week. Not just a letter, but a thick manila envelope.
I was suspicious at first. I shook it. I sniffed it. I held it to my ear to see if it was ticking. Because I’d written an honest analysis of Bradbury’s work, I had said a few things that the author might have found, shall we say, less than flattering. So I was wary. But when I’d sent Bradbury my thesis, I’d mentioned in the cover letter the lack of books about him; I’d had to do most of my research by rummaging through often hard-to-find magazine articles. So when I finally got up the nerve to open the package, I discovered that it contained a set of book galleys for a soon-to-be published critical work on Bradbury.
Now that this somewhat self-indulgent memoir is finished, let’s get to the real reason for this post. Something cool is about to happen. Something seriously cool. This Saturday, May 19, HBO will premier its movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Francois Truffaut did a very good adaptation 52 years ago, but that one was 52 years ago. It’s time for a newer version, an updated version. To put yourselves in the mood, check out the movie trailer and read director Ramin Bahrani’s New York Times article. And while you’re at it, re-read Bradbury’s novel (If you’re reading it for the first time, I envy you). It’s only 150 pages (50,000 words) long. You can knock it out in a few hours. Also, check out my review of Fahrenheit 451.