I told him about the new John Carter movie. His eyes lit up, “Go get it for me! Go get the DVD and bring it here!” It was in those flashes of unbridled excitement that you could see why this man was so adored. He was the fan, the collector, the creator that we all want to spend time with.
But I was most interested in how he, as a man who had become larger than life, thought about his legacy as he looked back at the last 91 years. His reverence for books - both as sources of knowledge and adventure, but also as objects -- was about a future that was tangible; a sort of immortality that was assured of him and the other timeless figures who worked in service of the printed word.
“Books are alive, you see. They’re not dead, they’re alive. This book is alive,” he says tapping his hand against the copy of Fahrenheit 451 in front of him. “That’s me. That’s my flesh.”
His devotion to books is well documented, but to hear them first hand is as edifying as it is electrifying. There is always a suspicion that public figures are putting on an act; that words are said for effect or win friends or gain influence. But not here.
In an afterword to one of his most famous books, he wrote: “I did not write Fahrenheit 451, it wrote me. There was a cycling of energy off the page, into my eyeballs, and around down through the nervous system and out through my hands. The typewriter and I were Siamese twins, joined at the fingertips.” It was clear then that he believed in the symbiosis between author and book. And it was still clear now.
Perhaps this is why Mr Bradbury found it so hard to embrace the idea of a future of words built with pixels. Digital squares are ephemeral. They do not have physical being after an author is gone.
Bradbury was in some ways a man of contradictions. His futures were both reactionary and progressive in their vision. He told me that he didn’t predict the future, but that he tried to prevent it. And nowhere was that more true than in his aversion to eBooks and the internet.
I explained to Mr Bradbury that, as a writer in 2012, most of my work never saw the printed page. “Electronic books are junk. To hell with them,” he said slamming his palm against the table. “It’s fake, it’s stupid! Goddamnit, it’s wrong! A book is a book!”
His mission with novels like Fahrenheit 451, he said, was to ensure that physical books - real books, as he saw it - would still exist in the future. “I saved the libraries,” he said. “With [Fahrenheit 451], I went out and lectured and I saved libraries all around California.”
He truly believed in the power of the book and the sanctity of the library .He wrote his books in them and he wrote books about them. He claimed in a recent essay that he had probably written more “poems, essays, stories, plays and novels about libraries, librarians and authors than any other writer today”.
“If we ensure that by the end of their sixth year, every child in every country can live in libraries to learn almost by osmosis, then our drug, street gang, rape and murder scores will suffer themselves near zero,” he wrote.