I don’t remember if it was middle school or my freshman year in high school. I do remember the assignment. We were asked to pick a book off a list, and not just read it, but read it alongside a parent. The assignment stands out, as it was one of the few times I had a teacher with the temerity to assign homework to my parents. My mom and I looked over the list, and we easily picked out one title.
The Martial Chronicles.
We’d seen the television version as a family, both as miniseries and cobbled together into a feature length movie. So we read the book. And we loved the book. Later, my mom worked in my high school library both while I was a student and long after I graduated. One of her jobs was culling books, and one day she brought home an old library edition hardback of The Martian Chronicles for me, one that would be replaced with a new copy in the library. I sat up and re-read it that night, cover to cover. It’s one of only two times I’ve read an entire book in just a day. The dreamy opening tales of Martians turning their planet into heaven for visiting astronauts. The tragedy of their deaths. The macabre notion of turning bits of Mars into living Poe stories. The isolation of standing on Mars and watching the Earth burn. I visited them all again, and I loved them all.
I read Fahrenheit 451 my Freshman year of high school, one of only two genre fiction books I can remember from my high school reading lists. It’s the book that taught me that science fiction can be, and often is, social commentary. I’ll occasionally visit bookstores that are helping schools build up the book quantities they need for English classes. The schools give their reading lists to the stores, who keep copies behind the register, letting patrons buy one to donate while checking out. Every time, every damn time, I see a copy of Fahrenheit 451 I have donate it. And will continue to do so. It’s one of those important books that I think everyone should read.
More importantly, that everyone should have a chance to read. It’s one of those books that shows up all the time on anti-censorship lists of the most challenged books. It’s proof, I suppose, that irony isn’t dead. And proof that the people who challenge books either don’t read them or don’t understand them.
Yesterday we lost Ray Bradbury. And it is a huge loss to genre fiction. While it’s easy to dwell on what we’ve lost, I prefer to think of what we still have. It’s what I learned in Fahrenheit 451, ideas don’t go away, and books don’t die as long as someone cares about them.
So thank you, Ray Bradbury. For being you, and doing what you did. We’ll all miss you.