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Ray Bradbury: Thoughts at Life’s End (Video and Transcript)

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Posted on Jun 7, 2012

(Page 2)

Rough Transcript:

Steve Wasserman: Ray Bradbury thank you for sitting down to talk with us this morning. On a day which sees, in Los Angeles at least, and probably throughout the rest of the country a growing number of bookstores ending, shuttering, declining. A growing number of book review sections starting to close. Barely a handful of American newspapers any longer bother to review books much less have a separate section.

Ray Bradbury: That’s right, yeah.

Steve Wasserman: I understand that the Los Angeles Times after 33 years, will be ending their publication of a separate section devoted to the review of books. I speak as someone who, for nearly 10 years edited that section. I wanted to sit down with you because you have been so outspoken and eloquent the whole of your life and most recently at the site of Acres of Books in Long Beach at the threatened closure of that remarkable second hand store. I remember very well in 1997, just as I was assuming the editorship of the Los Angeles Times book review at that very moment you were given a lifetime achievement award by the LA Times and you took the occasion very memorably to denounce the LA Times for its meager coverage of books. You admonished the Times to live up to it’s own ambitions. I admired your ability to both bite the hand that feeds you as well as speak truth to power even though I have to confess it hurt a little bit.

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Tell me, you grew up in Los Angeles very largely or at least you moved here when you were how old?

Ray Bradbury: At 13 years old.

Steve Wasserman: At the time when you moved here you were living in what is downtown Los Angeles.

Ray Bradbury: Almost downtown.

Steve Wasserman: At that time were there bookstores that flourished in Los Angeles, which for you became places of magical transport?

Ray Bradbury: Sixth Street was fantastic! There were 8 bookstores on Sixth Street alone from Hill Street all the way up to Figueroa. You could go in all kinds of bookstores. That’s where I met my future wife.  I went into Foweler Brother’s Bookstore and this youngster waited on me and she discovered I had written stories she read. I took her to dinner a couple of weeks later, held her hand, engaged her and married her. So that is the bookstores on Sixth Street for you.

Steve Wasserman: Do you remember what it was about the physical contact with books, which seemed to be so exciting for you?

Ray Bradbury: A lot of it is the smell of books. A lot of those bookstores were used bookstores. Some were high quality used books and new publications. But the other bookstores were a lot of used books and there were thousands of them in there and they were covered with dust and the smell of ancient Egypt. So you’d go into a used bookstore and surprise yourself. Surprise in life should be everything. You shouldn’t know what you are doing. You should go into a bookstore to be surprised and changed. So the bookstore changes you and reveals a new part of yourself. That is the importance of a used bookstore.

Steve Wasserman: Is something being lost with the disappearance of these bookstores? The technology for conveying to people the contents of books seems to everyday advance.

Ray Bradbury: The bookstores are there for you to stumble over yourself. That is the trouble with universities do not teach you, they do not discover you. I raised myself in used bookstores. I went in looking for myself and I found me on every shelf.  I opened strange books and I saw a mirror image of myself in there. I said, “Oh my God! That’s me! I’ll take that and go home.” So used bookstores are surprise boxes to be opened constantly. They are not there now so there is no chance of revealing people to themselves. They will get revealed with these new inventions with the telephones that they use, with the internet, what have you. That is no surprise. It doesn’t work.

Part II – The Book Review

Steve Wasserman: As you’ve lived the literary culture of Los Angeles and have been one of its defining personalities; as you look back over these 5 or 6 or more decades in which you’ve been part of the very fabric of Los Angeles literary culture what has changed most dramatically for you, either for good or for bad?

Ray Bradbury: The bookstores are there for you to stumble over yourself. That is the trouble with universities do not teach you, they do not discover you. I raised myself in used bookstores. I went in looking for myself and I found me on every shelf.  I opened strange books and I saw a mirror image of myself in there. I said, “Oh my God! That’s me! I’ll take that and go home.” So used bookstores are surprise boxes to be opened constantly. They are not there now so there is no chance of revealing people to themselves. They will get revealed with these new inventions with the telephones that they use, with the internet, what have you. That is no surprise. It doesn’t work.

Steve Wasserman: Well some would argue and perhaps convincingly that those writers have been replaced by other writers who are writing about all kinds of things. Whether it’s science fiction or the politics of assimilation of the new waves of immigrants who’ve come to Los Angeles that there is new and fresher writing.  What disturbs many of us, of course, is that in a region so geographically sprawling as Los Angeles that there exists no particular publication any longer that provides a central clearing house by which writers might meet and recognize and critique each other’s work.

Ray Bradbury: Absolutely! In fact I helped a couple of bookstores along the way put together a literary meeting place. There should be a place in every bookstore with comfortable chairs, tables and drinks every afternoon. You can come sit with the other writer friends and assimilate what is becoming a writer.

Steve Wasserman: Right. What are the obligations, if any, of those people who yearn to become readers? Are newspapers, as they existed helpful for people who aspire actually to become a reader? I note that the Los Angeles Times did report last week that 1 out of every 3 high school students in Los Angeles drops out before the end of high school.  It seems the very idea of being able to read itself seems to be challenged.

Ray Bradbury: Right now we have to rebuild our total education system in the entire United States over and beyond the book reports and the book publications and what have you. We are trying to educate people when they are in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade is too late. You cannot teach a 10-year-old child to read and write. It begins when they are four and five when they are mad to learn.  The good thing about young children is they are passionate about life. If you look at them they are eager, they run around grabbing things. You give them really good books when they are five years old and they are going to eat it.  We’ve got to teach children to eat books, to devour them, to be passionate about life! By the time they are 6 years old and in 1st grade, they are ready for all of life.  We’re not doing it. They have to change the whole educational system right now, completely, top to bottom.  You cannot learn by hearing you have to learn by reading. We’ve got to eliminate hearing and the Internet and get books back into the hands. I’m dictating my books now. I had a stroke a couple of years ago. I can’t type anymore.  So I dictate my books and it’s terrible because I can’t see them.  The next day my daughter sends me the type and I can look at the type and go through and correct it. But I’ve learned from dictating books you cannot learn or dictate. I don’t like doing that it’s changed my style. It’s changed my ideas. I don’t want to do it that way.


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