Ray Bradbury and the Power of Memory
Ray Bradbury has died at 91. His most famous book, Fahrenheit 451, is about book-burning in a world where entertainment on wall-size screens ("parlor walls") has replaced reading. Published in 1953, it's a dystopia woven from a fear of television.
Its redemptive ending establishes another theme: the power of memory. The books aren't gone. Their texts have been preserved in the memories of people who read them and will keep them alive until it's safe to write them down again. One man has Plato's "Republic," another "Gulliver's Travels," another the book of Ecclesiastes. Books aren't physical objects. They're words that resonate and linger in the mind.
When I was in high school, I chose a passage from "Fahrenheit 451" to memorize and recite as a literary interpretation exercise in a speech class. Nearly four decades later, only fragments remain. The most important is this one:
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.
Although I enjoy both science fiction and beautiful prose, I never read much of Bradbury's work, at least not once I was old enough to understand or appreciate it. (Sometime in elementary school I tried The Martian Chronicles without realizing it was a series of short stories and not a novel.) But he exercised an enormous influence on my life through that one passage in "Fahrenheit 451."