Disclaimer: I love FAHRENHEIT 451. I teach with this book in my current position, which means I’ve been reading it annually for the last eight years with the kind of attentiveness most people reserve for their holy books. I’ve scribbled and crafted and mapped–the kind of marginalia that reveals a smitten reader. And this love, naturally, has extended to Ray Bradbury. I’ve listened to interviews (thanks NEA Big Read) and read astonishing reflections (Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and others). When Bradbury passed away in 2012, I cried for a week.
When I saw that our library had an e-copy of Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations available right as I was teaching F451 (and that an indie press had published it), I checked it out and read in two big gulps (it’s a small book, 90 pages or so).
And I loved “hearing” Bradbury’s voice again, telling stories I hadn’t yet heard. I took screen shots of his exhortations to write for love, to write what’s inside, to pull out ideas like a magician’s empty hat full of scarves. I laughed. I cried. I read great swathes of it all aloud to my husband and my students.
I also loved how much of an old man he had become by the time Sam Weller had these conversations with him–I could tell he didn’t really give a damn about a lot of things (mostly what other people thought). He was more emphatic than necessary at times, and at other times gave answers that seemed more pat or proud than would typically be “polite.”
Sam Weller navigated this with a strange kind of biographer’s privilege. At times, he’d try to ameliorate the effect or steer the conversation in a different direction, and it came off as sweet–a sort of earnest protecting Dad’s reputation while he’s drunk on his own age. At other times, though, it felt like Weller was staging a question to display his own (admittedly extensive) knowledge of Bradbury’s life, and I found myself annoyed.
Still, when Bradbury told the story of Mr. Electrico, a circus performer with an electrified sword, I held my breath. And when Mr. Electrico pointed it into the audience at the twelve-year-old Ray Bradbury and said “Live forever!” — I let out that breath. Because I believe he will.