The best clue to the books Ray Bradbury values comes in Fahrenheit 451, in which a valiant underground movement rescues treasured works from destruction. The authors saved are a wonderful jumble, ranging from Plato to Arthur Conan Doyle. But not all the greats are novelists. Tom Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln make Bradbury's list. For as he explained in the course of the interview, "You can't have democracy without thinking carefully on paper."
Machiavelli, Jonathan Swift, Charles Darwin, Byron and Schopenhauer also make the cut. There's Dante, whose space travel extends to heaven and hell and Milton, whose time travel dates back to the Fall. And Melville, Twain, and Poe, who gave Americans a natural idiom to joke, speculate and dream. There's also room for bustling, gregarious Charles Dickens and reclusive Emily Dickinson. And for Edgar Rice Burroughs, who preceded him in imagination to the planet Mars, and Jules Verne, who blazed a trail to the moon.
Lately, Bradbury's been reading 19th Century satirist Thomas Love Peacock and just wrote an introduction to a new edition of his Headlong Hall.
And Bradbury says, "I go back to Mark Twain all the time, and to Melville, full of the joy of the sea and the terror and passion of what he saw." Reading Melville is a sort of double delight, Bradbury adds, "because he was deeply influenced by Shakespeare and the Old Testament," both of which have shaped his own work.
In the oceanic tide of words, where should a reader plunge in? Almost anywhere, says Bradbury: "You can turn from a great cartoonist to a great novelist. From The Far Side and The Wizard of Id to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. You can't compare them. And why would you want to? There's room in your life for it all."
- Penelope Mesic
Reprinted with permission from Book Magazine