More than almost anything I love used bookstores. I have always preferred a used book to a new book. There’s something about the feel of it, the weight of it, countless other hands leaving the care of their prints and other eyes leaving imperceptible traces along the words, the pages softly worn, the cover corners rounded, yet the book remains in careful condition, passed onward from eager reader to eager reader, never forgotten, never thrown away, preserved and read and re-read and enjoyed and moved forward until the moment it finds me. It’s a kind of literary magic. A history pressed unspoken into the pages for everyone to share.
When I was in school I found a little hole-in-the-wall bookseller lined with towering wooden shelves burdened with used books filed in no discernable order. The shop was quiet as the proverbial tomb. Dust motes danced in the sun that streamed through the front windows and otherwise there wasn’t much light. I found a great stash of well-worn Ray Bradbury books in that shop and I would spend hours curled up on the floor reading Bradbury in the dusty silence before purchasing the book at the end of day. I would buy multiple copies of the same Bradbury collection because you can never have enough, never.
Ray Bradbury is the kind of writer I most admired: poetic, insightful, imaginative, hopeful, and simultaneously savagely creepy. His deft way with words left me breathless. I could see his worlds, every one of them, in vicious color and form behind my eyes. The simplest suggestion of the macabre was a horrific skin-crawling masterwork in his hands. He wove atmosphere like nobody else: the bliss of a childhood summer, the eerie tendrils of fog through a cemetery, the wrenching unknown of a rocket’s journey to a new home in the cosmos. He understood the human condition perfectly. His stories worked so well because at their heart – whether tender, witty, or grotesque – they were about people rendered in living strokes. Characters with foibles and quirks and hopes and fears and wrongs, who breathed and stared and crept believably through often fantastic events. Ray Bradbury was and always will be an unmatched master. Reading his books in that bookshop always propelled me back out into the world with a sense of awe, of the magic singeing the edges of ordinary events, and most of all of hope: for Bradbury was a man who believed in the hope within life.
Here is Neil Gaiman (himself a master) on Bradbury: Neil Gaiman’s Journal: Ray Bradbury. It is difficult to find the words to convey the true magnificence of Bradbury’s work. Stories both simple and lyrical, horrifying and sublime. Thus my Pick for this week is Ray Bradbury. But he was prolific: he wrote a lot. I don’t want to overwhelm you so I will narrow it down to one collection in particular fitting for this month: The October Country. In a life’s work of favorites, The October Country is my most beloved of all Bradbury collections. It is perfectly autumn, perfectly Halloween, perfectly eerie, perfectly Bradbury.
To further assist you in narrowing it down, here are links to two favorite and very different stories from The October Country…
'The Homecoming'. It’s where Neil Gaiman started and it’s a perfect start for you too. It's about a family of eccentric ‘others’ and the one ‘regular’ black-sheep boy within their midst. It is an Addams-esque family of night-dwellers as gloriously seen through our eyes via Timothy. It’s magic. It’s pure Halloween. Read it here.
'The Emissary'. What starts as a heart-warming story about a sick boy and his Dog takes an unexpected but very Bradbury twist. It is classic yank-the-carpet-from-under-you Bradbury: both warmly beautiful and awful at the same time. Read it here.
- Corinne Simpson