With the non-essential stores closed, my daughter asked me the other day “does that mean bookstores?” Sadly, yes. More weekends than not I spend some time in a bookstore. Fortunately we are well stocked for an apocalypse, book wise. Lately I’ve been on a kick of reading short stories. I’ve certainly written enough of them to fill a book or two, and it’s nice to start something you can finish in one sitting. I just finished reading, or perhaps re-reading Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. I say “perhaps re-reading” because I know I read many of the stories in the edition of the book I bought as a tween. Some of the tales I didn’t recall at all, making me think I was reading selectively in those days. That’s the nice thing about story collections: you don’t have to worry about continuity.
That having been said, the conceit of the illustrated man himself is that of a framing device. His tattooed body is the canvas on which all of these tales are painted. A surprising number of them are religious in theme. Many of them take place on Mars. Rockets are ubiquitous. As a child I hadn’t realized that many of Bradbury’s stories were published in the late forties and in the fifties. They still felt futuristic to me, having grown up in a small town with very little exposure to technological developments. Reading many of the tales as an adult, I was surprised at how much they influenced my own fiction writing style. I must’ve read a lot more of them when I was younger than I recall.
My tweenage years were long enough ago now that memories slip into one another. I can’t remember when this or that happened, especially as regards reading. When did I first read about the incessant rain on Venus? Or about the writers living on Mars dying out as their books are destroyed? Looking back over my own fictional work I see Bradbury’s fingerprints everywhere. Bradbury couldn’t afford to attend college, so he did what he knew—he wrote. Of course, back in those days publishers and agents weren’t dealing with the volume they face these days. The internet has made writers of us all. And I have to admit that some of the stories in The Illustrated Man disappointed me. They didn’t reach the level of either depth or insight that I had recalled. Overall, however, the impression was good, if nostalgic. As the days become a long series of interconnected hours of sitting in the house, it’s a real gift to have short stories to punctuate the days.