“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”
That’s a well-known quote from Ray Bradbury, prolific American novelist, storyteller, and speaker. He’s best known for his science fiction writing, notably Farenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. He is given credit for popularizing science fiction to the degree that it became an acceptable literary form, rather than a pastime presented in comic books and pulp fiction. He also wrote extensively in other genres, including fantasy, horror and mystery fiction.
Mr. Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920. His father was repeatedly out of work, and the family moved to Tucson, Arizona, back to Waukegan and then Tucson again as his father looked for work during the Depression. They finally settled in Los Angeles, and Bradbury is primarily identified as a southern California writer.
Bradbury was an avid reader throughout his life. In his early years, he found books in the Waukegan Carnegie Library, and, as the quotation from him demonstrates, he was a dedicated patron of libraries. He’s not alone. Libraries are important institutions, whether they’re vast collections of rare and scholarly work, or single rooms staffed by devoted volunteers in small towns.
Here is the Carnegie Library in Waukegan.
The building is no longer a library. It opened in 1903 and served as the city’s library until 1965, found a few other occupants, then fell into disrepair. The city is trying to find funds to restore it. More information is available at THIS LINK.
One of the most memorable short stories I read as a kid was one Bradbury wrote titled, “The Pedestrian.” It’s set in a dystopic future Los Angeles, and combines his ability to make a compelling story about simple facts, a memorable setting, and an ironic twist about the conflict between an individual and a society dedicated to erasing individuality. Farenheit 451, of course, has the essential nature of books as its core theme. In that story, books are suspect, dangerous, and the autocratic society is dedicated to eliminating books by burning them.
This is National Library Week. All this week, I’ll feature stories about libraries, their importance not just to our world at large, but the role they play in the lives of readers of “Under Western Skies.”
If you have a library story to share, it’s not too late to be included. Please send an email to NixonWrites@gmail.com with your story about a library, and, if you have one, a photo of your library.
If your town has a library, this is a good time to find out how to help it prosper. If it doesn’t, perhaps you can begin the effort to establish one. It’s important work. I guarantee you that a future Ray Bradbury is sitting in a library somewhere, at this moment. Or, perhaps, a future Ray Bradbury is not sitting in a library, because the local library is closed for lack of funds, or hasn’t been established yet.
Think of what we might miss.
© Brad Nixon, 2016