Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations


I think highly of work by Ray Bradbury. I’d say the novels stand up better than the stories, which come across to me as a little keen to get their point across, often something poignant and a trifle heavy-handed about how sad it will be when nobody cares about art or reading books. Still, as we’re headed in that direction anyway (particularly thanks to smartphones, I think) it seems a churlish complaint to make that he so desperately cares in his stories. I admire the way a lot of his work is infused with love for books and reading, as well as a firm belief libraries provide access, so that equality comes from freedom of information, freedom to read.

It’s worth exploring The Last Interview for some of the quotes here. Bradbury strikes me as quite a lucky writer in some ways, with a skilled and well-connected agent for most of his life (literary agents are like unicorns to me, I send out an occasional email just to see if one will reply) even as Bradbury really hustled, trying to make connections and practicing writing continually. It’s a reminder you can have talent and develop your skills by reading like a writer (and watching how others do it) but ongoing effort to get your work out there is also required. How many writers do all three?

Here’s Bradbury on reading The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck: “He taught me how to write objectively. He doesn’t tell you what a character thinks or feels. You never get any thoughts of characters. What a character looks at or notices is how is how you get the entire feeling of atmosphere and emotion. You rarely get a character’s thoughts. The reader guesses at them by what a character sees or does.” 

Asked why he elected to examine so many themes in stories set in the future instead of today, his reply is a concise summary of reasons for writing “ideas” fiction: “If you write an ordinary story in ordinary times, people are not going to read it. If you write a fantasy, people will think you are not writing about them, and in doing so, you will get to their guts and to their hearts. You want to stay away from appealing to minds – you want to reach their hearts. And when they are reading the book and they finish it, they realize, My God, that is me! I thought he was writing about the future, but this story is just pretending to be about the future.”

There are only a few sour notes in the book. Bradbury’s mini-essay on his architectural influences (specific to various projects) just kind of comes across as boasting from an already-famous writer, though it may have been meant joyfully and it’s explained by the fact that he’s obviously driven. For Hollywood to get a bit run down and be compared to Hiroshima is quite appalling, and at another point he seems to feel change is needed because the Obama administration is not “for the people,” so you’re forced to wonder what he’d have thought of the assortment of changes the American people eventually got.

But it’s only fair to say, it’s an admirable book for his repeated statements about love: do what you love, write for love and not for money. “Everything I did was pure love. Pure love. And if you live that way, you’ve had a great life.” I guess I’m getting that part right, at least.

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