Today is Ray Bradbury's 87th birthday. I've loved everything I've read by him, and Mr. Bradbury has the special distinction of having begun my love for audio books.
Several years ago Chris and I lived an hour and a half apart. We visited each other most weekends. One particular Friday night I was driving out to visit Chris and was especially tired of the NY State Thruway, especially the bit between exits 47 and 50. I was driving rather fast to get the trip over with as quickly as possible, which didn't work, since State Troopers like to really take their time when giving out speeding tickets. I'm pretty sure that's intentional.
I decided that the best way to take the same old trip more slowly was to make the trip itself more enjoyable, or at least interesting. Thus entered my first book on tape borrowed from the Rochester Public Library: a collection of Bradbury short stories. I had always sneered at books on tape as being "not really reading" and got a short story collection because it was just for the car, and just for 3 hours. What a great collection! Bradbury read it himself, and it was so compelling that what I didn't finish on the ride I brought into the house with me to finish reading right away--I couldn't wait until the next trip to finish it.
Of course I realize now that audio books are still reading. I'm still using my imagination, and the language centers of my brain, I'm just taking in the information auditorially instead of visually. If I was blind I would read either auditorially or through touch--both still count as reading. Also, I'm now back to reading two books a week, whereas previously in my post-college adult life it was more like 2 books a year. Now some nice person reads me a story while I cook, drive, clean, or the like, and I don't even need to make them a cup of tea.
More recently, my friend Bruce introduced me to an excellent science fiction pod cast: Escape Pod. Every week I download the podcast for free and again, some nice person reads me a short story and doesn't even ask for a sandwich in return. Escape pod is created and run completely by one guy who manages to post a story, complete with well thought out intro, every Thursday. I've been really impressed with the quality of the stories especially two recent ones by Nancy Kress*. There are very few I don't enjoy or get some good thought or mental stimulation from. Only a very small portion of those I don't care for could really be called bad stories. I think that's partially because a good short story has to have a good idea, no copping out on just following around a few well written characters for 200 pages. When it can be read in 30 minutes, there has to be a good idea and a decent plot, you can't get by on charm alone. Also, good science fiction or good speculative fiction has to have a strong underlying idea to work. Short science fiction is the best of both worlds.
I'm a little afraid that other short fiction pod casts won't measure up. Does anyone out there have others to suggest? I tried a few knitting pod casts and they almost killed me. I know that other folks like them, but the ones I tried were either so boring they reminded me of the Saturday night live episodes that spoof NPR, or they were frustrating because I had to listen to two people talk about their knitting that I couldn't see. Plus I don't like to listen to cackling on headphones.
So a huge thank you to Ray Bradbury for his excellent fiction. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best discussions of good and evil I've ever read. I think he's put his finger on something that one of my other literary heroes, C. S. Lewis unfortunately missed when writing his Space trilogy: if you attempt to fight evil, evil has already won. That's what makes the ending of Jedi so great. Also, go out and get a hold of the animated Halloween special "The Halloween Tree," written by Ray Bradbury. It's sort of a "true meaning of Halloween" story that my pagan friends would love.
* Nancy Kress was sort of the terminal guest of honor at a science fiction convention that used to happen annually in Niagara Falls. I hadn't read any of her writing at the time, and was sort of negative about it being "oh, her again," every year, not realizing that she is a really great science fiction author who happens to live outside of Rochester. My apologize for my young ignorance, Nancy--I hope to run into you in the grocery store some day.