A review of Sam Weller, ed., Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, December 2014), xii + 93 pp.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to assess in my professional life as a historian and a biographer is just how much to take seriously in a person’s life. I consider, pass, and render judgments on a moment-by-moment basis! Judge not, lest you be judged. Oh boy. I’m in trouble. I must always ask, how much do I credit something said on day X vs. day Y? I can assure you, it’s not easy. One of the many things I love about biographers such as Joseph Pearce and Steve Hayward and David McCulloch is that they take chances. The biographer is not a mere antiquarian, but an observer who has to place his own being within the soul, eyes, and brain of his subject. It was very difficult with Kirk. He had a great fondness for self-proclaimed individualists such as Albert Jay Nock and Isabel Paterson, but he despised individualism as an ideology. How does one take all of this in? And, Kirk was much more skeptical in his younger years of government than in his later years? As a biographer and scholar, do I claim the later attitude destroys the younger? Surely, there must be a continuity rather than a breach?
And, then, sometimes, we can only go on what evidence we have. We barely know person A, but she left a diary that covered three months of her life in 1778. Do we extrapolate a life from three months of intimate revelations? Sometimes, it is all we can do, and we have to make the best of it.
With Ray Bradbury, the problem is not too little information, but too much. And, not just “too much,” but an avalanche, a tidal wave, a flood, an F5 tornado just having passed through the feed lot. . . well, you get the idea. And, yet, with Bradbury, more is never enough. Amazing that God just makes a few of those in His image so endlessly fascinating. Bradbury is one of those. What was God thinking when he made Ray? The man just overflowed with creativity, life, imagination, and everything else that matters in our whirligig of existence.
Melville House, a publisher on the move, has recently published a series of “Last Interviews” with great authors. Thus far, the series includes Kurt Vonnegut, Jacques Derrida, Hannah Arendt, and a few others. Sam Weller, who spent that last dozen years with Bradbury, put together this book. Weller, it should be noted, does incredible work, and he does not take the trust that Bradbury showed in him lightly. At the very end of his life, Bradbury admitted that Weller probably understood him better than he, himself, did. And, very touchingly, during their very last meeting, Bradbury admitted that he considered Weller the son he’d never had.
I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few tidbits from the book to give you a sense of its beauty and why you should own a copy and treasure it.
The secret of life:
The secret of life is being in love. By being in love, you predict yourself. Whatever you want is whatever you get. You don’t predict things. You make them. You’ve gotta bee a Zen Buddhist like me. Don’t think about things. Just do them. Don’t predict them. Just make them (4).
On comic strips and books:
Because I’ve been collecting comic strips all of my life. I have all of Prince Valiant put away. I have thirty years of Prince Valiant Sunday illustrations put away. I have all of Buck Rogers put away, too. I put those away starting when I was nineteen years old. So my background in becoming a writer was falling in love with comic strips. (8)
On the moment:
Every single moment. Every single moment of my life has been incredible. I’ve loved it. I’ve savored it. It was beautiful. Because I’ve remained a boy. The man you see here tonight is not a man, he’s a twelve-year-old boy, and this boy is till having fun. And I will remain a boy forever. (10)
On science fiction vs. fantasy
I had a hell of a lot of fun writing [Fahrenheit 451]. It just came with its own spirit. But now that it’s everywhere, I’m so happy that so many people love it. I love that book too. Remember this—I am not a science fiction writer. All of my books are fantasy writings. All my books are fantasies. But the one book that I’ve written that pure science fiction is Fahrenheit 451. So I’m glad that I wrote it, and I’m glad that you feel that way about it, too (20).
Let me also state—especially in this world of intangibles and ebooks and other bizarrenesses—this is a beautiful book. A nice cardboardish cover with fine paper, Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview is a joy to hold. It’s also delightfully short. I mean this in the best way. It’s the kind of book you can spend a later afternoon and evening enjoying. Frankly, serious publishers need to offer such diversity in length and topic more often. There are nights that demand serious reading and full immersion. Other nights call out for a sprinkling and thoughts of goodness but not of life-or-death import. Bradbury was a truly wise man, a gifted artist, and Weller captures and conveys that Bradbury that we all want to know and love perfectly.
Ray Bradbury was a national treasure—indeed a treasure of western civilization—and Weller’s work on and with the great author is a Godsend. There is not a page, let alone a paragraph, in which Bradbury does not share a thought worthy of reflection and meditation.
Like Russell Kirk, Bradbury despised modern technology and especially automobiles. Unlike Kirk, however, Bradbury got to pilot the Mars rover from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. “So while he hasn’t driven on the 405 Freeway, he’s driven across the sand dunes of Mars—and they actually gave him a little Mars driver’s license” (19).