Friday, September 22, 2006

"This isn't a good way of problem-solving"

The quote above is from a parent, commenting on the children of Bradbury's "The Veldt" plotting and observing the death of their parents.

This is the latest attempt to get Bradbury removed from the classroom. There is a great irony here: Bradbury has such a deep and intuitive understanding of the child mind, that his stories are ideal for the classroom - and in the US he is very widely taught. But because he writes tales of horror and suspense and often, famously, writes about a future in order to prevent it, he comes under attack from parents and occasionally librarians who would like to protect the innocents.

(Of course, anyone who thinks children are innocent should definitely be reading "The Veldt" and "The Small Assassin", among others.)

For more on the challenge to "The Veldt" (which was rejected, by the way), see this report from the Beaverton Valley Times.

By some quirk of irony, this week is also apparently Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, Association of American Publishers, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Naturally, Fahrenheit 451 springs to mind whenever we think of banning books, and this report makes the customary mention.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Bradbury, we are often told, is a storyteller at heart. Of course, people say this about many writers. There are, I think, three things that make this a particularly appropriate characterisation of Bradbury.

First is that Bradbury's writings are mostly in the short form. Like the storytellers of old, seated around the camp fire, he keeps things short and to the point. He favours short stories. Short poems. One-act plays. Thirty-minute TV dramas. Yes, he has written plenty of novels, some poetry of epic length, and many full-length screenplays. But even his longest works are really quite short, and nearly all are highly episodic.

Second is that Bradbury likes to re-tell his stories. All good camp-fire stories are ones that have been refined, embellished and enhanced through repeated telling to different audiences. All the great stand-up comedians do this, and some of them keep the same comic tales spinning for years, always adjusting the narrative, delivery and timing for optimum delivery. Bradbury re-tells his stories in many ways. He constantly adapts and re-adapts from one medium to another: short story, play, TV script, novel chapter. And in his interviews and public-speaking engagements, he invariably re-tells familiar anecdotes, like the one about Mr Electrico, or the one about how he remembers being born.

Third is that Bradbury is (or has been until recent years, when his health has got the better of him) a great performer of his own stories. He has recorded audio books of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and many others of his works. Although he's not one of the world's greatest actors, he has been one of the best performing writers.

This autumn, Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois, is staging a storytelling festival in Bradbury's honour. A small town, and a small event. But the emphasis on storytelling is surely correct. This format seems an ideal way to celebrate his works - and to usher in the Bradbury season of Halloween.

Bradbury won't be attending in person, but he is filming a contribution in California.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bradbury 13 exclusive!

Mike McDonough, creator and producer of the classic radio series Bradbury 13 has very kindly sent me some photos from the production of the show.

I have added Mike's photo album to my Bradbury 13 page: click here to take a look.

As far as I know, many of these pictures are published here for the first time. Many thanks to Mike for his generosity, and for taking the time to scan them for me.

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!