I was saddened today to hear that Ray Bradbury has died at the age of 91. He was without doubt one of the greatest influences on me as a teenager, and the gateway drug to a lifetime love of literature.
In my junior year in highschool (I was 16), I had the singular privelege of having one of THOSE teachers – you know the kind, like my own version of Mr Keating. I had Mrs Kauffman for both English and Creative Writing, which she continued to teach in spite of there only being eight students wanting to take the class. She was the only teacher that I can remember that was sharing a vivid and personal passion with us – her great loves were the American Transcendentalists esteemed writer of ‘Self Reliance’ Ralph Waldo Emerson, eminent naturalist and author of ‘Walden’ Henry David Thoreau, and my personal hero Walt Whitman (I am not contained between my hat and my boots!) none of whom I had ever heard of before attending her class.
Aside from the gift of Whitman and Thoreau, Mrs Kauffman said to me, after reading one of my assignments, “You should try reading some Ray Bradbury, I think you might like it – start with ‘The Martian Chronicles’.”
Before the end of the school year I had read and re-read Fahrenheit 451 eight times! It is still F451 that I hold most dear, as well as the sublimely sinister ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes‘. His values and ideas struck such a chord with me that I have rarely found his equal. As your typical troubled adolescent I felt that something was wrong with the world, and took some comfort in the fact that there were people (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Ayn Rand) that could see it too – that it was possible to survive in the world in spite of what I saw at the time as an inevitable decline of society.
So, exactly twenty years later, I have found my way out of a troubled adolescence into the bliss of my late thirties, sounding my Barbaric Yawp over the roofs of the world, sure of what I believe, where I stand, and what kind of person I am. And I can categorically say that I simply would not have become the person that I am today without Mr Bradbury’s influence in my life at such a crucial time. His death represents a significant loss to this world.
The fact is not lost on me that his passing coincided with a rare celestial event, and I can’t help but thinking that Ray wouldn’t have had it any other way. On the morning that the world found out about his passing, I was taking photographs of the sun.
I must confess that in spite of the twenty years since her recommendation, I have never actually got around to taking Mrs Kauffman up on her suggestion of reading The Martian Chronicles! I will order it tonight, and tomorrow start planning my first batch of dandelion wine…