I DOUBT THAT any other American author could have generated the overwhelming and almost universal response that erupted when Ray Bradbury died last June at the age of 91. Even President Obama issued a statement that the news “immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age” — one of the few times I can recall an American president mourning the death of an author since John Kennedy commented on the death of Hemingway. And Obama may have put his finger on something by noting that Bradbury’s stories were “imprinted” on us even as children. Certainly some of Bradbury’s stories — “The Pedestrian,” “The Veldt,” “Homecoming,” “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “The Million Year Picnic,” “All Summer in a Day” — are among the most reprinted in the English language, especially when one considers not only Bradbury’s famous recycling of his own material in different collections but also the various science fiction anthologies, literary short story compendiums, and — perhaps most important in terms of this point — the various middle-school and high-school textbooks and anthologies that for decades made it seem almost impossible to avoid reading at least one or two Bradbury stories if you were receiving a public education anywhere in the U.S. Bradbury may have been the ideal middle school writer — accessible, enthusiastic, provocative, and offering an almost irresistible helping of lucid and luminous prose. On more than one occasion, he claimed to friends and interviewers that he was really a children’s writer, although during the height of his career only one book, Switch on the Night (1955), was published as a children’s book; the young-adult repackagings of stories R is for Rocket and S is for Space came later, in the 1960s, and The Halloween Tree not until 1972.
In other words, Bradbury may well have been the last American writer whose works can be said to have informed nearly all our childhoods, a point that is reinforced by the impressively diverse range of contributors to Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, Sam Weller and Mort Castle’s generous tribute collection, assembled only a few months before Bradbury’s death. Weller and Castle asked each of their 26 contributors to provide a brief afterword to their stories, and almost without exception they recount anecdotes of their teen or pre-teen years when they first encountered Bradbury on a spinning rack in a school library (Kelly Link), or in a grade school class (Dave Eggers), or in the SF section of a public library, or “when I was no more than eight years old” (Ramsey Campbell), or when “I was eleven or twelve years old” (Joe Meno), or “by the time I was ten or eleven” (Dan Chaon), or “as a teenager” (Margaret Atwood). These are testimonials to the kind of imprinting that Obama spoke of, and while a few of the contributors mention revisiting Bradbury years later, as adult readers, it seems evident that roughly eight to fifteen is the prime age for getting the Bradbury bug. This is reinforced further by the remarkably vivid memories that nearly everyone, myself included, seemed to effortlessly dredge up when hearing of his death — not only the first book or story we read, but the precise visual image of whe...read more