This past June, science fiction, literature, and the world at large lost a great voice, writer, and personality. Ray Bradbury fed the eager minds of young people and challenged them to be inquisitive, headstrong, and imaginative. When he died, a spark went missing from the overall flavor of American Literature. But for all of Ray Bradbury’s pursuits, one of his greatest accomplishments was the promotion of books and reading for young people.
A few days ago, publisher McSweeney’s and book editor Dave Eggers released their annual The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology. It collects the best essays, articles, comic strips, and other short-form pieces of American writing and literature throughout the calendar year. This year’s edition features a special introduction by Ray Bradbury where he writes about why he loves books and reading above all else. It also seems somewhat fitting that Bradbury wrote this piece because now it serves as the last published work he wrote.
In the piece, Bradbury talks about going to the most magical place on Earth, his local public library. He describes his weekly pilgrimage and his need to check out mountains of books. At points, he describes how his librarian would get upset with him because he’d check out so many books when she didn’t think he’d read them all. But he did, he read every word he could get his hands on. As Bradbury explains, books “are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.”
Reading fed Bradbury’s appetite for knowledge and his curiosity, which led to his understanding of writing and imagination. He expressed his love for books throughout his work, including, famously, in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, which describes a future world where books and reading is against the law.