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Ray Bradbury on Literature and Love
Posted on Jul 28, 2008
Wasserman: Right. And 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 mean, I note that the Los Angeles Times did report last week that one out of every three high school students in Los Angeles drops out before the end of high school. And so, it seems the very idea of being able to read itself seems to be challenged.
Bradbury: We have to go—right now we have to rebuild our total education system in the entire United States over and beyond the book reports and the book publication and what have you. We’re trying to educate people when they’re in the fifth, sixth and seventh grade—it’s too late. You cannot teach a 10-year-old child to read and write. It begins when they’re 4 and 5—when they’re mad to learn. See, the good thing about young children is they’re passionate about life. And, if you look at them, they’re eager. They run around grabbing things and you give them really good books when they’re 5 years old—they’re gonna eat it. We’ve got to teach children to eat books—to devour them—to be passionate about life by the time they’re 6 years old in the first grade they’re ready for all of life. We’re not doing it.
We’ve got to change the whole educational system right now, completely, from top to bottom. You cannot learn by hearing. You have to learn by reading. So we’ve got to eliminate hearing and the Internet and give books back into the hands—I’m dictating my books now. I had a stroke a couple years ago; I can’t type anymore. So I dictate my books and it’s terrible, cause I can’t see them. And the next day, my daughter sends me the typed ... I can look at it type and go through and correct it. But I’ve learned from dictating books, you cannot learn or dictate—it’s wrong. 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.
Wasserman: Your observation reminds me that, with the passage of every technology, something’s gained and something’s lost. I imagine an earlier period in human history when we went from an oral culture—from Homer and the responsibility of bards and poets to memorize whole poems and to pass them on in an oral tradition. Once they decided to, you know, set down in parchment or in illuminated manuscripts, there were probably critics at the time who said, “Oh, my God, we’ve lost the facility to memorize, and no one will ever write a poem as good as “The Odyssey” or “The Iliad,” which could only have been concocted by someone who was committed to the oral tradition and to passing on, and probably someone bemoaned—now people are going to rely upon the crutch of the written word for what formerly they committed to memory. And then I imagine that when we went from quill pens and parchment to typewriters, someone must have said, “Oh, my God, we’ve lost something very valuable.” The time it took to dip the quill into the ink—that was the pause that refreshed. That was the moment for actual reflection. And there were probably people who said, “Now with the typewriter you’d have no time actually to think about what you’re going to say.” And similarly today with the computer and the older ways of doing things.
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Wasserman: Well, the computer arrived a little late, because a man with that attitude would, it seems to me, have embraced the computer with some enthusiasm, since the computer is a very fancy typewriter that makes things go very quickly and very fast. And let me just go back to the question of newspapers for a moment, because there’ve been so many cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times and they’ve not been alone in this—the whole newspaper profession seems to be on its heels. [Have] newspaper book reviews been important for you for your career? Are they of any interest whatsoever? Or could we as easily get along without them as perhaps we have with them?
Bradbury: No, as a writer, I’ve always ignored the reviews, because they’re always wrong. And even the right ones are wrong. They love you for the wrong reasons. So you mustn’t read them. So I turned down 200 reviews in the last 40 years, because I knew they couldn’t help me. It’s too late. I’m already me! The book’s out—you can’t change that book by criticizing it. It’s too late! You’re too late for me. If you could help by looking over my shoulder when I’m throwing up, you could teach me to throw up better. But those reviews can’t help me throw up, you see?
Newspapers should teach us to be in love with life. They’re in the business of criticizing life too much. They’re too negative. They do all the rapes and murders and destruction. They’re happier with tornadoes and the earthquakes. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t teach me, help me to survive all that—teach me how to be in love every day of my life. I only teach one thing to people: Do the thing that you love, and love the thing that you do. Don’t do anything else. Don’t do anything for money. Don’t listen to anyone who gives you money and says, “Do this.” Stop that! You can’t do it. You’ve gotta do what you love.
I worked for Universal Studios 50 years ago. They wanted me to work on a project, and I was suspicious of them. And they gave me an idea and I sat down and said, “What are you paying me every week—$300?” I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll do two scripts. I’ll do one for you and one for me. At the end of 10 days, I’ll turn them in, and by the way you choose the right one, I’ll either stay or I’ll go. You’ve gotta pick the right one to keep me.” So, I turned in two scripts in 10 days and they said, “Won’t you choose? Don’t you want us to choose the one that you love?” I said, “Yes, I do, cause that’s the right one!” And luckily, they chose the right one.
I stayed on and we did “It Came from Outer Space.” It’s not a great film, it’s a nice film, but if they’d got out of the way even more it would have been better. So, I’m teaching people day by day, don’t read the headlines, don’t look at the newspaper—the negative things—look at the—there’s gotta be a positive attitude by the newspaper not to be political all the time. The Times was busy trying to destroy Schwarzenegger a couple years ago; they shouldn’t have tried to do that. That’s not the function of the newspaper. It’s to inform us fully and completely about character. And you must not be a critic unless there’s a terrible crisis at hand. But otherwise, don’t turn on TV, cause it’s disaster after disaster. It doesn’t work the same way.
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