The Nature of Reading

I was saddened this week, as I know many were, to learn of the passing of Ray Bradbury.  Ray was a tremendous influence on me as a writer (again, there are many who can say the same).  I was fortunate to see him speak at Foellinger Auditorium on the University of Illinois campus when I was an undergrad, and although I didn’t get a chance to speak to him personally, the stories about his life as a writer were just as vivid as any piece of fiction he ever wrote.

I think my favorite of Ray’s works may have been “The Illustrated Man.”  If I’m remembering the timeline correctly, I listened to an audiobook version, read by Michael Prichard, during my days as a delivery driver.  There was something gripping about both Ray’s writing and Prichard’s performance, and the tone of the work, both in the stories themselves and the interstitial pieces featuring the Illustrated Man, really resonated with me.

The news this week hit me nearly as hard as when my grandfather passed away in February.  Ray was 91, my grandfather was 95.  But the nature of reading, when you are a writer, is that every other writer is a father or a mother.  It doesn’t matter that Ray Bradbury was the same generation as my grandfather; his influence was as direct as that of my own father.  When you’re a writer, every bit of someone else’s work that you read, whether it’s something great like a Ray Bradbury story, or a hack novel that makes you think you can do much, much better, is teaching you about writing, and your intellectual parents may be in their nineties, they may be younger than you, or they may have died a hundred years before you were born.

As many have pointed out this week, we’ll always have Ray’s work.  To me, that means all of us can carry something of him with us for the rest of our lives, the same way we carry something of any family member we may have lost.

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