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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Things Considered...

National Public radio (NPR) asked me to participate in a holiday program in which writers talk about books that they associate with the holidays. Since I'm not a Christmas Carol kind of guy, I wrote about Animal Farm, which is maybe not a typical yuletide book, but there you go. In theory I was going to read this essay on the air during the show, but my being here in Pakistan made that somewhat difficult, so instead they just posted it online.

Here's the link:

What's interesting is that I actually sent them two essays, overachiever that I am, because I couldn't decide whether to go highbrow (Animal Farm) or honest (The Martian Chronicles). Not surprisingly, NPR went highbrow, even though the Bradbury book is really more of a Christmas book for me because my sister Eleanor gave it to me one year. Anyway, for those of you who are interested, here is the alternative NPR essay that wasn't used:

"For Christmas 1979 my sister gave me an oversized, illustrated edition of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. 28 years later I still have it, and expect to go on having it for another 28. It’s pretty beat; a yellow stain splashes aross the front cover, probably incurred when being transported to Boston after college or Arizona for grad school, or shipped to Morocco or Pakistan later on. Maybe it’s beer, or tea, or just rainwater. But the pages are still clean, and Ian Miller’s illustrations, all straight lines and geometric curves that look etched or lithographed, are as sharp as ever. The pictures are sense-impressions inspired by the story’s poetry, rather than simple realistic drawings; they’re unsettling, and they keep surprising me no matter how many times I go back to them.

"I have strong holiday associations with Bradbury’s book because it’s the first one, maybe the only one, that I remember asking for as a present. Seven bucks was a lot for a book in those days of 99 cent paperbacks, and its large nine-by-six inch format made it special. It was the first book that I had ever wanted even though I’d already read it; this copy was something to reread it. This was new. I remember the feeling, as I peeled off the wrapping paper, that I was looking at a really adult book.

I was right.
The Martian Chronicles is, as far as I’m concerned, a 20th century American classic, something that ought to be read in college alongside Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston, but its presence in the science fiction ghetto has prevented widespread appreciation. It’s a book that deals with thematic issues shunned by many better-known books—exploitation and colonialism, race and class, manifest destiny versus environmental pillage. Its pages are permeated by a sense of loss, wistfulness, mourning. There are chapters that induce chuckles, and others that are plain terrifying.

It evokes images that have stayed with me for decades. Bradbury’s evocation of an alien world of red deserts, dessicated oceans and dusty canals is as remote as anything could be from my wintry Connecticut holidays with their snow-shrouded hemlocks. But somehow, he made that landscape speak to me. From that book, I learned about the importance of setting, that a place can play as much of a role in the story as any character. I also learned that reality needn’t be much of a barrier to a writer seeking to wrest some emotional response from the reader. In fact, sometimes the job is made easier by leaving strict realism behind. I took this lesson to heart.

I read
The Martian Chronicles that winter during Christmas break, and several times since. It never fails to surprise and impress me. It’s one of those books that has so much packed into its 28 chapters, its dozens of little vignettes, that it will always reflect something different each time you look. Just like the moon, or maybe two of them, passing across the sky at night."

What's amazing is that you can now buy a used copy on Amazon for about four bucks. Does this count as progress? You decide...

Eid Mubarak - Happy Hannukah - Merry Christmas - Happy New Year


Kate said...

Hey Dave and Uzma--I'm glad to have found you after so many years! You're on my mind especially today because of the news. Please send me an e-mail! I look forward to hearing from you. __Kate (from Arizona)


Hi Kate

Great to hear from you. But what's your e-mail? You can find Uzee's on her blog or mine is here .