My Vonnegut phase lasted from ages 22 to 25. I read every book he’s written, even the crappy ones (hello there, Slapstick). I loved his voice, his humanism, the jokey poetry of his anecdotes. I’d often argue that Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is only his fifth-best book (beaten by Cat’s Cradle; Jailbird; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; and Mother Night).
By the time I hit Breakfast of Champions, though, I’d fallen out of love. His cynicism grew stale, and his dark, dry wit began to feel like knee-jerk pessimism. Vonnegut felt like a guy at a party I’d spent too long talking to. We’d run out of things to say. His negativity was beginning to grate.
So here I am, age 26, in need of a new literary imagination to commune with. I want somebody who, like Vonnegut, writes science fiction but transcends the title “science fiction author.” Somebody with an imagination as vast as Vonnegut’s, with a voice as distinct, but with a poetic idealism to replace Vonnegut’s vernacular realism. Vonnegut growls. I want somebody who sings.
Enter Ray Bradbury.
I saw a copy of Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars on sale for $2. I’m a sucker for a bargain, and suddenly I’d found it: a writer as infatuated with the world and Vonnegut is disillusioned with it.
I humbly offer some favorite passages.
Over lunch with publishers, the topic of trains comes up, and we see Bradbury’s ability to go from zero to reverie in five seconds:
“My God,” they said. “Why don’t you write an article on trains for us?”
“Wait here!” I cried, and ran across the street to my office, where I wrote the piece in a white-hot burst of love and returned to the luncheon table in thirty minutes. I sold the article during desert.
Here, he describes what makes a good movie (p. 23):
A bright film with a mediocre ending is a mediocre film.
Conversely, a medium-good film with a terrific ending is a terrific film.
And this is Bradbury on dogs (p. 65):
Dogs, for instance, are on their way to humanity. They sense the difference between good and bad, know guilt, and suffer sadness.
A story about lunch with his good friend Walt Disney (p. 75):
One lunchtime, I said that Los Angeles needed a really good creative mayor like Walt. His swift response:
“Why should I be mayor, when I’m already king?”
Another conversation with Walt (p. 103):
I suggested he hire me to help rebuild [Tomorrowland].
“It’s no use, Ray,” Walt said. “You’re a genius, I’m a genius. We’d kill each other in the first week.”
Bradbury expresses some lovely thoughts about the joys of train travel, and getting to see the countryside transform around you. He contrasts it with the instantaneous dullness of plane travel: (p. 142):
The jet knows only two places—where it takes off and where it lands.
Here’s a pithy hymn to libraries (p. 149):
Step into a real library, swim in the aquarium of time.
Bradbury on “cool” (p. 223):
I hate cool people. Next thing you know, they are cold.
And last but not least, Ray on his home, Los Angeles, offering the nicest and most compelling words I’ve ever heard about the city (p. 225):
So here’s to Los Angeles, diverse, multitudinous, going nowhere, arriving somewhere, a gigantic pinball machine with several million balls ricocheting off the future. May it never be integrated, may it never be described.