I didn’t expect this book. Perhaps, more accurately it was Ray Bradbury I didn’t expect. Way back in school I had read a short story of his in some slim anthology of stories about I-don’t-know-what. What I do remember is that it involved some technologically advanced house, a family of self-entitled children, something about an African savannah, there being lions, the lions became real, things went pear-shaped. I don’t know. The entire thing rang of too familiarly to that month’s made-for-TV Disney film and I was left unimpressed by the author and indeed wrote him off entirely. It was a dated story. The ichor of old technology did it no favors and the fact that it was mandated for school, I’m sure, did little to help my opinion.
I didn’t read anything else he had written until sometime last year when I finally sat down to read Fahrenheit 451. I came away entertained, however lightly, but largely unimpressed given how much this book was beloved by seemingly everyone. I liked it, but a classic? People are a strange lot. They like silly things. There were some good moments, but I have a feeling only its core will survive in the minds of those who read it (book burning, it turns out, is not an effectively means of control, but creates no shortage of effective and emotionally resonate scenes).
I told you that story and it’s follow up not because it matters, but because it gives context to just how unprepared I was.
On a whim, I tried this book, this novel that is not a novel. It is perfect. It is poetry. It is everything a young boys summer is and is not. It captures its spirit, but not its content. Its content is something greater, a cavalcade of vignettes that tie together, sometimes loosely, sometimes not.
In this small Illinois town, Bradbury captures everything. Even those things that we struggle with, the things I am still struggling with, he finds and explores. That moment in a person’s life when they realize, truly realize that they are alive. The elation, the perfect harmony of spirit and moment before the other shoe drops and you realize just as you are alive, so too you must die. That thing, that horrible, cripplingly unfair and tragic thing is found in here and written of perfectly. Bradbury has achieved something almost god-like here, in every piece he strikes upon something human, something true to the heart of experience and smiles at just how strangely unprepared we always are for the things that find us. He knows it is not always pleasant, he knows that for some of us the weight will carry us to our graves, sadly overburdened, broken by this thing none of us asked for.
Bradbury knew, knows, still knows, the truth. He shows you through a grandmother’s cooking that you can’t over think it. You can try and capture it, figure out a way to recapture the moments that captured you, but you will fail. All you can do is take it in the little glimpses it offers you, and smile.
It’s a simple thing. A shame it’s so easy to forget.
“I’m ALIVE. Thinking about it, noticing it, is new. You do things and don’t watch. Then all of a sudden you look and see what you’re doing and it’s the first time, really.” ― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
Note: For those interested the short story was entitled The Veldt and the Disney movie was entitled Smart House and that would have put the time of me reading the story sometime during the spring or fall of 1999. Bonus fact: LeVar Burton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow fame) apparently directed the film Smart House.