As a writer, it sometimes takes the smallest thing to inspire me. Other times I wander the house, flipping light switches, wishing and hoping that somehow my creativity will flip on in a similar fashion.
Most often though, I find inspiration in the stories I read and sometimes never get to read but absorb through conversation and interaction anyways. One story that has lived, behemoth-like, in the background my entire life is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
The giant of science fiction died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. When I read the headline, my breath actually caught in my throat, stuttering and confused. Echoing the sentiment of many online fans, it seemed impossible. He was supposed to be immortal, much like his stories.
Like the clown from It, E.T. , and Godzilla ravaging downtown Tokyo, there are images from science fiction that have peppered my pop culture identity since birth even if I’ve never seen the movies where they originated.
A gigantic stack of burning books is definitely one of those images.
Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the 1950s, a time when censorship was a very real problem and freedom of speech was an ideal on the page rather than the reality that allows for our blogs, online videos and websites that rant at government and societal flaws today.
His dystopia was not a world stricken with famine or a world war, but a world where books were outlawed and burned at the exact temperature that destroyed them: 451 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.
It’s as if, thirty years before my birth, he read my soul and created an exact image of how, in my heart of hearts, I would visualize Hell. Books, in flames, and no one stopping it. Even imagining a world where books and learning are outlawed horrifies me. It makes me remember how lucky I am to live in the world I do, with the resources I have. It makes me want to go volunteer at literacy programs and teach kids and adults how to read so that they can experience the world that I do through books and stories.
I think, by having this image of burning books in my brain, I am constantly pushed to be a better person if only because I know that there are places where access to knowledge is curtailed and confined to a privileged few. And I thank Bradbury for that.
I haven’t read a lot of Bradbury’s work but his influence on my writing and my storytelling runs deep. He was a bottomless well of advice and support for writers and artists of all types who told us stories that would help, inspire, console and warn generations of people, no matter their profession. His work has been adapted to film, television and radio, and his books remain in print even now – decades after their publication in some cases.
I may have to change my summer reading list. I may have to make this my summer of Bradbury.
Image via Google