His novel Dandelion Wine so moved me as a fifth-grader that I balanced the book upright on my desk, hoping to interest others. A prized possession is a signed copy of his wondrous horror novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, given to me by my brother for Christmas a few years ago. My wife found a worn paperback of Bradbury stories and started reading them to our kids at bedtime. My little girl's reaction to one descriptive paragraph was much like mine to Dandelion Wine at the same age.
"That's beautiful," she said.
Bradbury's death at age 91 was sad news, but who understood better than the creator of Fahrenheit 451 that books outlive their authors? In that spirit, Country Life called local booksellers and asked them which book in Bradbury's voluminous oeuvre they'd recommend as a gateway work.
We got the right person at Rhino Books on Charlotte: bookseller Michael Maloney, an avid Bradbury reader who ticked off the author's resume from short stories to screenplays to Twilight Zone adaptations. (As recently as last week's The New Yorker, he was still writing.) The book Maloney suggested, without hesitation, was Bradbury's 1950 short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, which he says exhibits the author's career-long fascination with "character and spirit."
"It gave his vision of what you could do with a society from the beginning," Maloney says. "He used his imagination to show what had been and what could be [on the new world of Mars]. But in colonizing them we become them, and it doesn't happen." He also recommends the superb collection The Stories of Ray Bradbury — which contains one of the author's most wrenching stories, "All Summer in a Day," in which a group of envious schoolchildren punish a classmate on a planet where the sun shines only two hours every seven years.
At Parnassus Books, bookseller Yashwina Canter recommends (appropriately enough) Fahrenheit 451. She praises the "very dystopian" book for being a "well-written, well thought-out" take on a plausible future where books are treated not as Kindle material but as kindling. The store's running low on Bradbury, Canter says, but she did find a spare copy of his short-story collection The Illustrated Man.
Any of these books might make a fine reason to visit the Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden that just opened at Cheekwood, a quiet place where people can sit alone with their thoughts to read. Or take Maloney's advice and "sit down tonight with a small glass of Scotch and say, 'I'm going to read some Ray Bradbury.' You owe it to yourself."