Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That UNauthorised biography again...

I thought I might regret it, but I paid good money for a copy of that unauthorised biography: Ray Bradbury Uncensored! The Unauthorized Biography, by Gene Beley. As I have mentioned before, I had concerns that this would not be a very solid piece of writing.

At some point, I will do a complete review of the book, but I wanted here to record my first responses, having speed-read the whole book, and having read a couple of chapters very closely.

My overall impression is of a book that very much needs a strong editorial hand. It needs some fact-checking (example: it reports events of Bradbury's 86th birthday, even though it was published
before that event). It needs some copy-editing (example: names of people spelled inconsistenly, sometimes within a single paragraph).

It also needs systematically revising to make it a 2006 book, rather than a slowly-accreted collection of items written over a period of years. It is rather disturbing to read that Beley had "last heard of" Charles Rome Smith in a particular place - giving the impression that the author has lost track of the theatre director - and then to read an end-of-chapter note reporting Smith's death. Many of the chapters of the book take the form of an article written ten, twenty or thirty years ago, with an "author's note" tacked on the end to bring it up to date. In chapters where Beley is reporting a specific event, such as a particular speech Bradbury delivered, this would appropriately give us a sense of being at the event, and provide important historical context. However, when the chapter is an interview that has no particular point-in-time value, this seems odd. George Clayton Johnson and Harlan Ellison, both very much alive today and (judging from interviews elsewhere) both highly accessible to interviewers, are quoted extensively on their views of Bradbury's writing and character - but the interview quotes are from the 1980s. Ellison is quoted as saying that Bradbury has done nothing of value for thirty years - but this quote pre-dates Bradbury's flurry of writing activity that would include Death is a Lonely Business, Green Shadow White Whale, Ray Bradbury Theater, The Toynbee Convector...

Apart from these editorial weaknesses, does the book have anything to offer? Well, it has a biography of Bradbury, but necessarily with less detail than Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chroniclesoffers. It reports on some of Bradbury's public speaking, quite successfully giving a sense of what it is/was like to be present at such events. It covers Bradbury's legal action against CBS over copyright infringement of Fahrenheit 451, in more detail than I have read elsewhere. It gives some insights into Bradbury's forays into theatre, revealing/claiming clashes between Bradbury and Smith, and between Bradbury and Shank.

It has some charming quotes from "ordinary people" who knew Ray at various points in his life, and some negative comments about Bradbury from various people who have had dealings with him.

And it sounds slightly unkind when discussing Bradbury's disabilities and his current state of health.

And quite a few photos, rather randomly arranged.

Overall, it's a real mixed bag. Probably essential reading for the Bradbury completist, but for anyone else I would say: buy Weller instead.

My top tip is to buy the ebook version, which is a lot cheaper than the printed edition!

4 comments:

Gene Beley said...

If you, Phil, the author of this blog, will give me your mailing address, I will refund your money on my book—just tell me how much you paid. Fair enough?

I will take this opportunity to thank you for pointing out the errors that you found, which are now being corrected for future book purchases. (I would appreciate your verifying the wrong spellings, as the only one I found was Peter Viertel was spelled once with an a (Viertal). Being able to make these changes relatively quickly certainly is an advantage of the Print on Demand method of publishing. I personally believe it is the revolution we will see soon in the publishing industry for many more traditional companies—if just because they don't have to pay for warehousing a lot of books when they can print even one at a time, as sold. It would also prevent needless expense to publishers who get books returned to them by the bookstores when the books don't sell quickly. In all due respects to iUniverse Publishing, they did a fine job of the line editing, and providing good service during the production of the book. Until you've written over 60,000 words (and are sick of reading your own manuscript 100 times during the vollyball editing process), you have no concept of what's involved in producing a book. I have spent most of my adult life in journalism (from cub reporter in the 60s to owning a newspaper in the 90s), but "Book Land" is completely different. Anyhow, thanks for your good critique. All of us can improve at anything, no matter how much effort has been exerted, and I will spend the money to get the corrections done in early January! I do think there's plenty of room for both Weller's version and my own. Since I'm 67-years-old, I approached it with more of a sense of urgentcy than when I was younger.It is very frustrating to wait 6 months just to get answers from each agent, on whether they will take on the project, then have to wait perhaps longer to see if a traditional publisher will accept the book. Having been a publisher myself, used to total control, I opted to go with iUniverse Publishing, who chose it as an Editor's Choice book immediately after reading the first draft. I have since visited many book stores personally in the Western U.S. and have begun to attend trade shows and book festivals to promote it myself. It is a gruelling process!
Gene Beley,
Author, Ray Bradbury Uncensored!

P.S. If you'll provide your email address, I'll send you a photo of Ray and myself taken last month at the Bakersfield Festival of Books when I personally gave him a copy. He was immediately moved by the color photo of his Aunt Neva on the hardcover book jacket. It is probably the only published photo of her anywhere and there is also a rare interview with her in the book.

Phil said...

Gene,

I'm very pleased to hear from you. I did attempt to email you several months ago, but without success.

Many thanks for offering a refund, but this isn't necessary. On reflection, what I paid for the e-book was good value.

I'm pleased that you are open to making corrections to the book . It hadn't occurred to me that corrections should be so much easier with a print-on-demand book than with traditional printings. (Thinks... this will play havoc with textual historians' work in the future, as they willl never be able to definitively identify different editions of a text!)

I have recommended your book to many people, as it does have some unique content. There is a very real sense of 'being there' in your descriptions of some of Bradbury's public speaking engagements, which I imagine derives from your long journalistic experience. I just wish some of the discomfort could be ironed out by a bit of judicious editing. I think I would have been much happier with the book if each chapter had begun with a clear statement of the date it was written.

I would be delighted to see the photo you refer to. You can email me here: temp at bradburymedia dot co dot uk.

(Replace 'at' with @, replace 'dot' with . )

Gene Beley said...

I tried to email you, but got a prompt that rejected your address, and said I'm limited to 16 characters. So I'll appreciate it if you can give me another email address that complies with that need, and I'll be happy to send you the good photo of Ray and myself in Bakersfield at their book festival in November. Meanwhile, here is the message I tried to send you today:

Thanks for posting my letter to present my side. Although I wasn't able to utilize all your suggestions, I utilized most of them. The cost for the changes at iUniverse was under $300, which I thought was most reasonable, and an example of the service they render. It will take about 30-45 days before this version flows into the marketplace. If I had your full name, I probably would have added my thanks to you in the Acknowledgements!

Attached is the photo of Ray and myself at the November Bakersfield Festival of Books. What was most interesting is I assumed he was ticked off at me, because he never replied when I sent him a birthday greetings in August and asked if he wanted a copy of my book. It is another case of a journalist should never assume anything!

"I never got it," he said. Perhaps his daughter intercepted it. I may never know, but Ray was very pleased when he looked at the hardcover Ray Bradbury Uncensored! book and saw the color photo of his Aunt Neva Bradbury. I told him if he liked that one, there were more in the book that he'd love... like the one of his good friend, Chuck Smith, who directed a lot of his plays. Patrick, his chauffeur, asked if he, too, could have his own copy, and I went out to the car and got him one immediately. Then he asked me to autograph it, and I sincerely said, "I'd be most honored," and signed it, "ENJOY!"

It was interesting to see Ray giving basically the same speech in November 2007 as he gave in the 60s, 70s and through the 90s, but now with young children sitting on the floor in front of a packed audience sitting in chairs and standing in the back. I long ago, while watching him, realized that successful people repeat the same basic message, as one of my interviewees in the book stated. This is why I only printed two speeches in their full text—his best one in Chapter One, and the worst one at Santa Barbara, when he had too much to drink and the hecklers got to him, to show his human blemishes.

For any of your California blog fans, I'll have a booth at the Los Angeles Festival of Books on the UCLA campus, the last weekend of April, April 28-29,07, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles Times newspaper. More than 100,000 book lovers are expected at this event!

If I can help you on any of your efforts, let me know. I would love to communicate with you more to get feedback on marketing the book in your part of the world.

Thanks again for your help.

Gene Beley, author, Ray Bradbury Uncensored!

Phil said...

Good to hear from you again, Gene, and very pleased that you have gone to the trouble of changing your book!

Sorry you had trouble with the email address. Try this shorter one:

p@bradburymedia.co.uk

That's the shortest I can possibly make it!

If that one doesn't work for you, perhaps you could include YOUR email address in a message. (When you post a comment on this blog, I don't get to see your email address, so you would have to include it in the message body. Your email address won't be published here, as I can delete it before it appears on the blog.)