Exciting/Challenging plans for next month’s #24in48 Readathon!

I’ve been away from blogging for a while but hope to come roaring back in June and July. First, I must catch up on posting about my Deal Me In 2017 stories. I’m about 9-10 behind, but have read four of those. I’ll probably do some “collective” posts dealing with several stories at a time. This is the worst I’ve fallen behind since 2011 – the very first year I attempted the Deal Me In challenge. 😦

What I’m starting to geek out about though, is an idea I have for my reading during next month’s #24in48 readathon. The last few times I’ve participated I’ve tweaked the format, reading 24 short stories in 48 hours, using my Deal Me In approach (what is the “Deal Me In” challenge?) of assigning each story to a playing card in a “euchre deck” and drawing them one at a time to randomize the order. I’ve always found that reading short stories during a readathon helps me avoid getting “stuck” in a longer work.

For next month, though, I’m going to up the ante. I’m making this one a “52in24in48” readathon, reading a full deck’s worth of stories with the catch being that they’ll all be stories by Ray Bradbury, the beloved science fiction/fantasy/however you want to label him writer. Reading 52 stories may take me the whole 24 hours too, making this the first time I’ve done the #24in48 in its pure form (of the “24” meaning HOURS, not 24 short stories). I’ll come up with some prize donations for the home site of #24in48, and maybe offer a few on my own site for commenters, or those who read & post about something by Bradbury during the challenge, or even just for logging into and “liking” The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies’ Facebook page. Heck, you should do that last thing regardless of the #24in48 readathon anyway, right?

I’ll firm up the details of this project in the next few weeks.  One thing I have already decided, though, is that one of my “suits” from my 52 cards will be Bradbury Stories recommended by my fellow bloggers, so give me some recommendations starting… NOW! 🙂

(Below: One of Bradbury’s stories later evolved into the iconic novel, Farenheit 451)

the fireman

I should note also that today (June 5th) marks 5 years since Bradbury passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long already.

(below: one of my favorite Bradbury pics – taken with him posing in the driver’s seat of the Time Machine prop from George Pal’s film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.)

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What about YOU?  Are you doing the #24in48 Readathon next month (7/22-7/23)?  Do you plan to read anything by Bradbury? What are your reading plans for this fun challenge?

The Crowd by Ray Bradbury

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“How swiftly a crowd comes… like the iris of an eye closing in out of nowhere.”

Note: this post contains spoilers…

Mr. Spallner, this story’s protagonist, is involved in an automobile accident. Though hurt and dazed, his injuries are not life-threatening. He is conscious enough to notice the details of his surroundings – particularly that, in a location that was deserted moments before, a crowd had gathered “out of nowhere” to surround him. He notices too that the tires of his now upside-down car are still spinning “with senseless centrifuge.”

Someone in the crowd says “Is he dead?” And another one answers, “No, he’s not dead.” And another, “He won’t die. He’s not going to die.” It sounded to this reader like the crowd was disappointed. Spallner has his suspicions too, although he realizes he may have been dazed after the accident, there is something strange about the crowd.

crowd

He discusses his fears and observations with several people, first his attending doctor when he awakens two days later in the hospital, then a cab driver, then his friend, Morgan. All of them challenge his idea that there was something sinister in the crowd, yet all of them have also witnessed the phenomenon of how quickly a crowd appears at accidents. The cabbie sums it up as “Same way with a fire or explosion. Nobody around. Boom. Lotsa people around. I dunno.” It is primarily the speed at which the crowd gathers that is eating at Spallner. He tells his doctor that they were there in thirty seconds. The doctor suggests it “was probably more or like three or four minutes” since Spallner’s senses were disordered by the accident.

Spallner knows better, though. Why? Because he remembers that, when HIS crowd was there, the tires on his car were STILL SPINNING. They wouldn’t have been spinning for three or four minutes. Friction would have slowed them down much faster than that. Sometimes the (natural) laws of physics conspire to reveal or confirm the supernatural, eh? An interesting idea…

Riding in a cab, he witnesses another accident and is certain he sees some of the faces in that accident’s crowd that he saw at his own accident. When visiting his friend Morgan in an office building, their talk is interrupted by the sound of a car crash on the street below. Again, Spallner thinks, the crowd includes some of the same faces. Not all, of course, but some.

He does some detailed research in archived newspaper clippings and photos of accidents over the years and sees the same people over and over. They are always the same age. They are always in the same clothing. They are always in the crowd. He shows his findings to his friend Morgan and says he is going to take them to the police.

“Do you think they’ll believe you?”
“Oh, they’ll believe me all right!”

Spallner begins driving very carefully to the police station. Not carefully enough, however, as he is involved in another “accident”….

How did I learn about this story? Well, back in March a local library branch had a day honoring Ray Bradbury, with a couple talks or presentations by Jonathan Eller, the director of the “Center for Ray Bradbury Studies” located here in town at IUPUI (that’s “Indiana University -Purdue University Indianapolis”). Mr. Eller, who knew Bradbury personally and is also his biographer, shared many photos and stories about the author. One memorable photo to me was of his family’s small house in Los Angeles (maybe “cottage” is the better word). It was located right next to one of the local power company’s substations, and one photo showed the window of the room where Bradbury did his writing, which looked out at this structure. One can easily imagine the author’s imagination humming right along with the audible drone from that station…

<below: Ray Bradbury memorabilia on display at the library>

bradbury memorabilia

Eller shared many anecdotes about Bradbury stories. The one that piqued my interest, though, was of how Bradbury – who never learned to drive – witnessed a horrible accident in 1934 Los Angeles while walking on what was moments before a seemingly abandoned street. A woman victim of the accident even died while Bradbury was tending to her. Obviously such a traumatic event would leave quite an impression on anyone, and for Bradbury his amazement at how quickly a crowd gathered led to this story.

<below: the first volume of Eller’s Biography of Ray Bradbury>

becoming ray bradbury2

Of course this is just one of many many great short stories by this prolific writer. Which ones have you read that are your favorites? (I’m still working my way through the collection “The Illustrated Man” and have a couple of his stories on my list for my 2013 edition of my annual short story reading project.)

(below outside the Irvington Branch of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library system. I used to live right across the street, just out of the picture to the right…)

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<we even got to listen to Bradbury’s own voice – it was a “super fascinating” day!>

bradbury tape

(Below, the power substation located next to Bradbury’s house in Los Angeles. As Jonathan Eller wrote me when forwarding this picture: “Imagine seeing this at night, with the sub station machinery lights glowing through the tinted windows. Creative energy as tangible metaphor.”)

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Banned Books Week at the Vonnegut Library – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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In honor of “Banned Books Week” (starts Sunday!) the book club at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis read Ray Bradbury’s often-banned novel, “Fahrenheit 451.” At our meeting yesterday, we were also lucky to have a special guest, Jonathan Eller, who is the Director and General Editor of the “Center for Ray Bradbury Studies” in … Indianapolis! Located on the IUPUI campus, it’s part of the “Institute for American Thought” which in turn is part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. This “discovery” makes me wonder what other local hidden literary treasures might await me if I looked around a bit more.

Anyway, on to the book. This marked my third reading of this classic. The first time, in January 2001, was simply for my own pleasure. The second was just in 2010, when I re-read it for a discussion at Bookmama’s bookstore. A brief post about my 2010 reading of the book may be found here. I had no regrets about having to read it yet again for the KVMLBC. It’s a short book too, checking in at under 50,000 words. It can be read in a just a few hours, even by a slow reader like me. I won’t re-hash the plot of the story (I’m assuming “everyone” has already read it and, if not, please buy a copy and get started now.) 🙂

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I was looking for ‘something different’ while reading this time around, and I was struck by how “fire” itself could almost be considered a character in this novel. (I felt something similar last year when reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – also for the KVML book club for banned books week – and found the Mississippi River also arguably taking on the role of a character). Initially, in Fahrenheit 451, fire is destructive only. In Fire Chief Captan Beatty’s lecture to the novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag, he describes it thus:

“What is there about fire that’s so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it? It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledygook about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. It’s real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences.”

Later when Montag, after his escape from the city, stumbles upon some men around a campfire, the “personality” of fire had changed:

“It was not burning, it was warming. He saw many hands held to its warmth, hands without arms, hidden in the darkness. Above the hands, motionless faces that were only moved and tossed and flickered with firelight. He hadn’t known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take. Even its smell was different.”

It’s little wonder that fire holds a place as one of the four original, primordial “elements” is it?

(below: Nazis burning books; these events happened not too long before Bradbury began work on the earlier versions of Fahrenheit 451. “I hate those guys.” )

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(And so did Indiana Jones, even if he did get Hitler to sign his dad’s “Grail Diary”)

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Due to our special guest’s presence, I also learned a lot about the book – and Bradbury – that I didn’t know. Here are a few tidbits:

The inspiration for Fahrenheit 451 was the 1940 novel, “Darkness at Noon,” by Arthur Koestler.

The original publication of Fahrenheit 451 included some books with asbestos board for covers (!) According to Eller, who has seen one, they have not aged well and should be opened only if wearing a breathing mask of some sort. This edition is pictured at the top of this post.

Eller also told us that Bradbury had a soft spot in his heart for the pedestrian, and that he felt they were a kind of “indicator species” for society (much in the same way ecologists view amphibians in the world of biology). Coincidentally, when Bradbury passed away earlier this year, I searched online for a story – any story – of his to read as a small tribute, and the one I found was “The Pedestrian,” a great short story about a future where being a solitary pedestrian late at night was apparently an arrest-able offense. Eller shared with us that Bradbury wrote this story after an encounter with law enforcement he had himself while out walking. This story may be read online here. It should be mentioned here also that an innocent pedestrian is also victimized in Fahrenheit 451 when the government, having allowed Montag to escape their televised chase, chose a pedestrian as a stand in to hoodwink the viewers into thinking they “got their man.”

We also learned about some of the earlier phases Bradbury’s story went through before it became the final version we know today. The highlight of our meeting (at least to me) was seeing some of the literary artifacts that Eller brought with him. One of these was an original copy of “Galaxy” magazine, wherein the Bradbury short story, “The Fireman” was published. This story was Fahrenheit 451 in, perhaps, it’s “larval” stage…

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Several of those in attendance were curious as to the reasons that Fahrenheit 451 had been banned.  It was mostly “foul language,” (“hell,” “damn,” – you know the type) and the sterilized amendments (many of which were published) seem but minor changes in today’s world.  One member of the club had a book (recently published, too) from a local school that STILL had the amended, sanitized text. Mr. Eller was surprised to learn this, and planned a call to, I think, Simon & Schuster… Eller has also written a book about Bradbury and  A Barnes and Noble review of “Becoming Ray Bradbury” may be found here

Overall, another wonderful day at the KVML…

A couple final things: I read somewhere before that Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper will burst into flame. Later I learned it’s actually 451 degrees Celsius at which paper combusts, but that Bradbury felt Fahrenheit sounded better as a title. I can’t remember where I read this, though. Can anyone confirm or deny? It’s interesting to note also that Bradbury was a steadfast supporter of “real” books over e-books, energetically opposing his own titles being released in electronic form. But – one can’t burn an e-book…