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Ray Bradbury on Literature and Love
Posted on Jul 28, 2008
Note: A transcript follows the videos below.
Videography by George Edelman, Austin Lovell and James Reid. Editing by George Edelman.
Part 1: The Bookstore
Part 2: The Book Review
Part 3: The News
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Steve Wasserman: Ray Bradbury.
Ray Bradbury: Yeah.
Wasserman: 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.
Bradbury: That’s right, yeah.
Wasserman: And 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 had edited that section. I wanted to sit down with you because you’ve been so outspoken and eloquent the whole of your life, and most recently at the sight of Acres of Books in Long Beach, the threatened closure of that remarkable secondhand store. And 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 L.A. Times, and you took the occasion very memorably to denounce the L.A. Times for its meager coverage of books, and you admonished the Times to live up to its own ambitions. And I admired your ability to both bite the hand that feeds as well as to speak truth to power, even though I have to confess it hurt a little bit. So tell me—you grew up in Los Angeles very largely, or least you moved here when you were how old ... ?
Bradbury: Thirteen years old.
Wasserman: Thirteen years old. And at the time when you moved here, you were living in what is downtown Los Angeles.
Bradbury: Almost downtown, yeah.
Wasserman: Almost downtown. And at that time, were there bookstores that flourished in Los Angeles, which for you became places of magical transport?
Bradbury: Sixth Street was fantastic. There were eight bookstores on Sixth Street ... along, from Hill Street all the way up to Figueroa. You could go in all kinds of bookstores. And that’s where I met my future wife. I went and found her brother’s bookstore and the young clerk waited on me, and she discovered I had written a story she read. And I took her to dinner a couple of weeks later and I held her hand and engaged her and married her. So that’s the bookstores on Sixth Street for you.
Wasserman: Right. And do you remember what it was about the physical contact with books which seemed to be so exciting for you?
Bradbury: A lot of it is the smell of books. There are—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’s thousands of them in there, and they were covered with dust and the smell of ancient Egypt. So, you go into a used bookstore and surprise yourself. Surprise in life should be everything. You shouldn’t know what you’re doing. You should go into a bookstore to be surprised and changed. So the bookstores change you and reveal new sides of yourself. That’s the importance of a used bookstore.
Wasserman: And is something being lost with the disappearance of these bookstores, even as the technology for conveying to people the contents of books seems to every day advance?
Bradbury: The bookstores are there for you to stumble over yourself. You must—that’s the trouble. ... 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. I saw a mirror image of myself in there and said, “Oh, my God, that’s me! I’ll take that. I’ll go home.” So used bookstores are surprise boxes to be opened constantly. And they’re not there now, so there’s no chance of revealing people to themselves. They don’t get revealed with these new inventions, with the, the telephones that they use, with the Internet and what have you. That’s no surprise—it doesn’t work.
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 five or six or more decades in which you’ve been, you know, part of the very fabric of Los Angeles literary culture, what’s changed most dramatically for you, either for good or for bad?
Bradbury: Well, we don’t have the authors here that we used to have. Sixty years ago, all the major science fiction authors lived in the L.A. area, and Robert Heinlein became my friend and my teacher, and he sold my first short story for me. It went into Script Magazine. And all the other writers became my friends. Leigh Brackett was a leading science fiction writer. I used to meet her every Sunday down in Muscle Beach, and she read my terrible stories and I read her good ones. So over a period of five years of going to Muscle Beach and meeting my favorite writer, I became a writer. But that environment is no longer here. Those writers don’t exist anymore.
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’s new and fresher writing. But 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 clearinghouse by which writers might meet and recognize and critique each other’s work.
Bradbury: Absolutely. In fact, I helped a couple of bookstores along the way put together a literary meeting place. There should be a fireplace in every bookstore with comfortable chairs and tables and drinks every afternoon [so that] you can come sit with the other writer friends and assimilate ways of becoming a writer.
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