By Tom Quinn
On June 6th, the world lost one of the great writers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Ray Bradbury. Bradbury was one of my favorite authors, and the favorite author of many people in the world. His books touched millions, and his stories have helped shape the way people imagine and think of what a story can be. He wasn’t perfect in his storytelling, of course – one of Bradbury’s problems (possibly his most prominent) was his habit of writing dialogue in the way he wanted people to talk, not in the way they do talk. But then that can be forgivable, and it’s very easy to forgive in the stories that he penned.
Below is a list of books of his you should read. The list is in no way comprehensive or complete (something that would be a feat for an author who wrote even half as much as Bradbury), but it’s a good list to start on if you’re not very familiar with him yet. Have you been wondering what made him so good at what he did, and why people will be missing him for years? Well here’s where you can get started.
Fahrenheit 451 – Arguably the most famous of Bradbury’s novels, Fahrenheit 451 is more about books than it is about the totalitarian dystopia that forms its background. The protagonist is a fireman – called that due to his job of setting literature on fire. His job is to turn books into funeral pyres, and he, more than anyone, is in a perfect position to show the cost of such an act. The story is at turns prophetic, worrying, and chilling as he casts the death of literature and society’s ability to comprehend and understand against the emergence of more and more technologies (such as the smart TVs predicted in this book) that have come to dominate everyone’s lives. This may be a perfect introduction to Bradbury.
The Martian Chronicles – A collection of shorter stories that, linked together, chronicle the rise of a human civilization on Mars, and fall of the indigenous Martian one. A somewhat haunting book, and sitting somewhere along the murky science fantasy line. It’s about loneliness, about hope, about exploration and the need to survive. It’s also a much faster read due to its size and style, so if you’re a slower reader or short on time, this might be a good route to go.
The Illustrated Man – There is a man, and he encounters a man whose tattoos move on their own. They tell stories, and the stories they tell are dark the way shadows at night are dark, and are just as enchanting. Be forewarned: The Illustrated Man feels a bit different from other Bradbury stories, and as such can be a bit more difficult to get into if it’s your first one.
The October Country – This book is much more fantasy than it is sci-fi, and firmly establishes Bradbury as an author that can bounce between the two at will. The stories are as tragic as they are hopeful, and absolutely wonderful to read from the moment you pick it up to the moment it ends. It’s also another one of his short story collections, so it can be a bit easier to digest in that way.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Children versus a dark carnival. Innocence and childhood versus the evilness that lurks inside us all. An engrossing story of what happens when one tries to shine a light into that darkness, and the fortitude it takes to keep that light on. Be forewarned: his language in this one can waver a bit, sometimes becoming a bit difficult to read as Bradbury gets caught up in his own turns of phrase. But it’s still completely worth it.
Dandelion Wine – A seemingly simple story of the summer of 1928, in Green Town, Illinois. It mostly focuses around Douglas Spaulding, the twelve year old protagonist who explores the town with his friends and younger brother. But Dandelion Wine does not stop with just him, instead dancing around the town, sharing the lives of its residents, spinning all together into a recollection of a time gone by, when the world was a magical place full of mystery and excitement. One particularly interesting fact about this book (and, subsequently, Ray Bradbury’s influence): astronauts aboard the Apollo 15 mission named a crater on the moon after this book. Go ahead, look up Dandelion Crater, and see if you aren’t suddenly interested in giving Dandelion Wine a shot.
If you have a favorite Bradbury novel that went unmentioned here, hop on Twitter and tells us about it @PaperTapeMag.
Tom is a writer, a photographer, and a libertine. He’s currently heading a new story-a-week project that can be found at yearofthewriters.tumblr.com.