I came across some Ray Bradbury books while unpacking. I recently learned that Ray Bradbury was a Unitarian. Now, the religion of a writer is only ever an ancillary bit of information, yet for someone of my combination of interests, it’s compelling intelligence. Having grown up reading Bradbury, my own fiction often comes out seeming like an imitation of his. I discovered him the way I found most of my early, influential writers—through Goodwill. Living in a town with no bookstores, Goodwill was a great venue for walking out with a good handful of books for under a buck. Since Mom was there looking for “practical” stuff, I hovered over the book tables and discovered a new world. Then I grew up.
Embarrassed by my childish interests, I gave away or sold most of my Bradbury books after college. I was more sophisticated than that now. I read Greek and was soon to learn Hebrew. Books were meant to have footnotes, and lots of them. Who wants to be seen with Bradbury on their shelves? But the indiscretion of youth does come back to haunt one. About two decades later I began to yearn for something missing from my life. Perhaps like a good Unitarian I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew it was lacking. Then my daughter was assigned Fahrenheit 451 for school reading. I tried to read whatever she was assigned, and once I did memories of Bradbury flooded back. I no longer had his books, but that could be remedied.
Occasionally I’m criticized for having too much in the way of books. I’m sometimes asked if I will ever read some of them again. The answer is how should I know? I jettisoned Ray Bradbury with Episcopal pretention, only to find that behind the ceremonial there was a more unified version of things waiting. A continuity with my younger self. A lust for imagination. A desire to remember what it was like to walk on Venus. Or to see a man presciently covered with tattoos. Or simply to thrill at the idea of October. I began to acquire the old books again. The newer editions lacked the visual resonance of the old, but the essence was still there. Orthodoxy, I discovered, often isn’t true to life. What’s true is what we discover early on. Sophistication isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And yes, I may well just read that again after all.