For too long, Bradbury equated reading with print
Bradbury fretted for decades over what would happen when reading books gave way to screens or was lost to ignorance. But for far too long, for Bradbury reading equaled print. The man who could see Mars missed the point closer to home: encourage reading in every form.
He also worried about the power of screens, as my colleague Mathew Ingram wrote. But he had no qualms about making books or stories into movies (whether he liked the results is a different matter). He embraced television, even adapting 65 short stories for HBO and USA’s The Ray Bradbury Theater and appearing in the opening. He allowed audio books.
But he famously kept most of his work from being published digitally (legally). Only a few short stories here and there and eventually, grudgingly, Fahrenheit 451, agreeing only to an e-book edition with the new print edition as long as it was made available to libraries. Publisher Simon & Schuster didn’t allow digital library lending so it was a victory.
That was the exception. Instead Bradbury either stymied his would-be digital readers — or sent them underground, a bit like Ray Bradbury characters willing to break the law to read. He was so protective of the form he missed numerous opportunities to make it easier to read his books. Yes, they’re mostly still available in print but they aren’t as accessible to everyone. It’s almost like a dare: if you really care about me and my work, if you really care about books, you won’t want digital versions.
But it wasn’t that. For Bradbury, says Brehl, it was about community. This is a man who went to the library to read and to write (Fahrenheit 451 was written in the basement typing room at the UCLA library), who saw the Internet as an isolating force that keeps people apart and as a massive distraction.
Brehl told me: “For a very long time, Ray was averse to having his books in digital because he felt the Internet did more about keeping people away from one other. If you have to have physical books you have to go to the library, you see each other. He thought the Internet put walls up between people.”
In Bradbury Speaks, a collection of essays published in 2005, he writes of the Internet with such derision that I can imagine this computer shooting sparks if he knew I was researching him online instead of in a library. Even worse, because it took him so long to come around, I’m reading the Internet essay in chunks via the Read Inside feature on Amazon instead of the digital edition I would have purchased last night, along with a couple of others, or checked out digitally from the library.
In 1996, he told a group at his childhood Waukegan Public Library:
“My God, all this Internet stuff is pure crap. You can’t take a computer to bed. You can take a book to bed.”
And, as numerous interviews and writings show, he didn’t like the idea of technology that removes personal control or responsibility.