Fuck(ing) (Kidding) Me, Ray Bradbury

January 22, 2012

Aside from an absolutely stellar half-page advertisement on page 59, the new issue of Cemetery Dance magazine contains a fascinating — albeit what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-him — interview with Ray Bradbury.  It’s only one page, though, and only covers the legendary science fiction author’s thoughts on one topic, and it appears to be excerpted from a longer piece.

Subtitled “We Have Too Many Inventions!” the article is still remarkable in many respects.  The most noteworthy is that nowhere does Bradbury reveal his thoughts on Rachel Blooms’s music video, “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” and whether he took her up on her offer.  No, it’s solely about his opinions on eBooks.  You would think that a science fiction writer would be especially forward-thinking on anything having to do with the blossoming of new technology.

Here, the 91-year-old author lapses into curmudgeonry when asked if eBooks are the future of reading.

Ray Bradbury: Absolutely not.  Three different groups have called me during the last three weeks.  I had another offer last week from a big company back East.  But my response was, “Prick up your ears, and go to hell.”  That was my response.

You see, Bradbury explains, eBooks don’t smell good.  Sure, they’re good for looking at “a lot of books in a single day,” but they’re not a link to history, like printed books are.

This is a classic example of an older generation’s failure to adjust to a new technology.  I expect that when I’m Bradbury’s age, I’ll have a similar problem with virtual reality mind melds or whatever my grandchildren are doing.  I’m already having to defer to others when it comes to operating my home theater.

Still, I think Bradbury and others like him are off base.  Sure, printed books have their place in our culture and across the entire lower story of my house, and I agree with him that they always will.  But from my limited experience with my wife’s Kindle, I have to admit I sure like reading on it.  So far, I’ve used it to read a couple Charlaine Harris novels, plus Suzanne Collins’s wonderful The Hunger Games trilogy, and I’ve proofread the eBook editions of my own Blood Born and Eyes Everywhere.

Does the Kindle give me the same tactile and olfactory experience as Earthling Publications’ signed, limited, slipcased The Very Best of Best New Horror?  No, but that book is also a doorstop.  When I’m following my two year old from room to room, cleaning smeared Play Doh off furniture, I would rather have a lightweight e-reader in my hand.  Not only that, but — bonus! — I can enlarge the text to give my pre-myopic eyes a rest.  Turning pages is as easy as the flick of a button, and unfortunately for impulse control, so is buying new books.

Part of the disconnect here is that all printed books are being conflated with collectible books.  Signed, limited editions on high-quality paper with leather bindings and slipcases and other cool things like artist remarques have their place.  I’m not knocking them or the people who collect them.  But just because some books are as valuable for their packaging as they are for their content, it doesn’t follow that all books not on paper are worthless.

To me, a book is only a vessel for what it contains.  The story, the information, and the resultant telepathy with the author are what makes a book special and not the paper it’s printed on.  So it’s disappointing that someone who has spoken as eloquently as Ray Bradbury has about the zen of storytelling doesn’t feel the same way.