Literature — Larger Than Life

I have been reading, which is always a dangerous thing.

No, really, reading is dangerous.  It challenges the twin conditions of Status Quo and Ignorance.  Which is probably why is has been encouraged to decline.  I do not know what the current literacy rates are, but I see what people check out in libraries, what students come slouching sullenly to the desk to request, hear the verbal banalities pour, not just from the mouths of other babes, but my own, and it makes me weep.

In case you have not noticed, I’ve been reading classic literature and essays by Ray Bradbury.  Both put me in a maudlin kind of mood where I hover between ecstasy and madness.  Because when I read them, if I’m lucky, I get the sensation that there are great truths hidden within them, sentences and paragraphs that resonate with me, but I have no means of expressing them.  The sheer abundance of creativity makes me want to simultaneously shout my joy to the heavens and slink back home and tear up the pages of my manuscripts that aren’t nearly as beautiful or insightful.  (So far I rarely express the former in public and I’ve resisted the urge to perform the latter.)

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Memory of a Master: Ray Bradbury

Last Tuesday, one of the most prolific and talented writers of speculative fiction died at the age of 91.  That writer was Ray Bradbury.  I call him an author of speculative fiction because his work can’t be defined strictly along the lines of sci-fi or fantasy or horror or mystery.  A lot of the time, his work is very like sci-fi.  There are spaceships and aliens and other worlds…but there’s something different.  Something almost…dreamlike, something vaguely Gaiman-esque about his tales.  Even though he predates Neil Gaiman, they share similar dream-states in their writing where things aren’t always what they seem and never what you would expect.

About a year ago, I was reading a book called Dwellers in the Mirage by A. Merritt and I told a friend:

“For some reason, books from the 1940s and 50s, the ones with the cheap, thin card-like covers and aged-tan pages and that tiny font that looks like Times New Roman but somehow subtly isn’t…they always give me a feeling of dreamlike detachment, like the book is a hallucination, or a flock of cleverly disguised birds about to fly away.”

The book responsible for this impression is my dad’s 1953 copy of Fahrenheit 451.  I don’t remember if this was the first Ray Bradbury book I ever read, or if it was just the first one I can remember reading.  I know there was a copy of The Martian Chronicles in the house that I read around the same time, but I suppose it doesn’t matter which came first.  I think I read Fahrenheit 451 when I was 9 or 10, years before I ended up reading it in middle school for English class.  I’ll admit that, at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the subtly and finesse of the book, but I got the basic idea.  Fahrenheit 451 sparked my distrust of authority, public institutions, and the government.  The idea that a government would outlaw books and then burn those books along with anyone possessing them terrified me.  The idea of outlawing reading was unthinkable!  It also sparked my sometimes uncontrollable desire to hoard books, especially old ones, because you never know when they might just “disappear” from record.  I am fanatical about having hard copies of everything, thanks to Fahrenheit 451.  I still have the same copy I read all those years ago, and every now and then, I’ll flip through the pages and experience the wonder and fear again, as a reminder of the importance of the tangible.

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A Taste of Travel & Geography

I don’t like to travel.

Let me elaborate:  I like being new places, but I really don’t enjoy the process of getting there.  The thought of arranging for a place to stay, paying for it, packing, getting up, driving six billion hours, and paying more money for gas, food, etc…it’s enough to make me want to cancel the trip entirely and hide under the covers.  I actually get nauseous thinking about it and going through with any travel plans is a struggle.  And I consider anything farther away than one and a half hours “a trip.”

Perhaps its because I like comfort and convenience.  I’ve been heavily spoiled by this age of cars, trains, and airplanes.  Traveling has never been easier, and it takes a lot less time and money than it used to.  I’ve never known anything else, so I often forget how lucky I am to have a car that makes a trip that would have taken me a week by horse only a few hours.  Still, I despise going to an area I don’t know well that is far away from anything I recognize as a safe haven.  Trying to take everything you might need and plan for contingencies while still being mobile is very stressful.

I was reminded of all of these things when I drove up to New York State this weekend to attend the wedding of two of my friends.  I was reminded of all the anxiety and hassle that comes with travelling.  But, I was also reminded of something else:  the power and beauty of geography.

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