Famed science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who published more than 500 works—including the often banned Fahrenheit 451—died peacefully June 5 after a long illness. He was 91.
Bradbury referred to himself as a “hybrid author,” with his works ranging from humorous and sympathetic stories to horror and mysteries. “I am completely in love with movies, and I am completely in love with theater, and I am completely in love with libraries,” he said in 2009.
Bradbury broke through in 1950 with The Martian Chronicles, and other favorites included The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes.
An ardent library fan, Bradbury said he wrote Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine, 1953) on a typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library and that his original intention in writing the book was to show his great love for books and libraries. The dystopian novel, about a future society in which books are outlawed, ranked number 69 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.
Although the novel had been the subject of various interpretations, Bradbury told L.A. Weekly in 2007 that Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t a protest against censorship but about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
“Useless,” Bradbury, then 86, complained to the Los Angeles publication about the ubiquitous tube. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.” He added that his fear about television-when he first published his book 54 years ago-has been partially confirmed by its effect on the news. The book’s central character, fireman Guy Montag, begins to wonder why he’s burning books to pay for a living room featuring three wall-sized televisions, with his wife pressuring him to buy a fourth. The title, Fahrenheit 451, is stated as “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns.”
Fahrenheit 451 has been banned because some think it contains offensive language and content. In February 1999, for instance, West Marion High School in Foxworth, MS, removed it from school reading lists after a parent complained about the use of the word “goddamn” in the novel. In September 2006, 10th-grade students at Caney Creek High School in Conroe, TX, were assigned Fahrenheit 451 to read during National Banned Book Week.
Although authors often say how much they love libraries, Bradbury was one who actually tried to do something for them. In 2008, the author blasted the proposed closing of California’s Long Beach Main Library to help balance the city’s budget, calling the plan a “heartbreak and an outrage” in an op-ed appearing in the Press Telegram. “Is Long Beach at war with the printed word and books?” Bradbury asked, further pondering “How can a major city not provide access to a civic center library?” The author praised the library staff and its friends, who he said staunchly fended off attempts to remove blacklisted books including his own Fahrenheit 451. He capped his piece by advising citizens to “tell City Hall NO to the threatened closure” and said that residents “deserve nothing less than access to a downtown library with ready access to books and programs to help them achieve their goals and aspirations.”
In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Bradbury said, “Libraries raised me. 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.”
For more on Bradbury, see this compilation of articles, interviews and documentaries on INFOdocket.
Library Journal Q&A with Ray Bradbury