If Bradbury's name doesn't trigger instant recognition and a flood of memories of high school English classes, then it's possible it's simply too late for you to make any useful contribution for society. In case there's still a chance, here's why you should recognize Bradbury's name: He penned Fahrenheit 451, a novel about a future in which critical thought is outlawed (451 degrees is the temperature at which books burn). Though this is his most famous work, Bradbury is a highly prolific writer and in addition to dozens of novels, short story collections, and novellas, he has also authored multiple teleplays and screenplays. His most famous is the 1956 version of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, which became the canonical representation of the novel (despite certain liberties taken with Melville's novel--most notably, a significant rewrite of the ending).
Bradbury is in the news lately because of a crusade to save public libraries in Ventura Country, CA. According to this New York Times article, the libraries there are under threat of closure because of a drop in property tax funds in the city. Property taxes make up the lion's share of public funds to support libraries in Ventura.
When friends of the library went to Bradbury for help, he was apparently an easy sell. As the article explains:
Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.
The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.
“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’
“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”
Readers of this blog know that I take my joy out of pummeling people who attack the internet as "meaningless" or "not real." In this case, though, I'm going to let Bradbury off easy, and not just because I'm easily dazzled by literary stars. Bradbury gets a free pass because he points to a key problem inherent in the social revolution: That the demise of print newspapers, public libraries, and books in general means that kids who either can't or choose not to engage with participatory media will get left behind. This means that the most disadvantaged learners will, once again, live at the mercy of the educated class.
The NYTimes article explains why libraries matter so much to Bradbury:
His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.
...“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
Look, I know it's not a revolution if nobody loses. But if the same groups of people who have always lost--the poor, the undereducated, the underclass--lose this time, too, then what kind of revolution are we hosting over here?
I will admit, though, that it's kind of confusing that one of the most innovative, creative, and future-oriented writers of 20th Century America is displaying such a resistance to a technology that appears to feel just a little too futuristic to him. It's not real? It's in the air? Isn't that the premise of the vast majority of Bradbury's body of work?