Book Review: In Print
As important a book in its own way as François Truffaut's Hitchcock, Listen to the Echoes compiles dozens of hours of interviews Bradbury's biographer has conducted over the past several decades
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 20, 2010
Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviewsby Sam Weller
Stop Smiling Books, 317 pp., $18.95 (paper)
As important a book in its own way as François Truffaut's Hitchcock, Listen to the Echoes compiles dozens of hours of interviews Bradbury's biographer has conducted over the past several decades and breaks them down into manageable chapters titled "Childhood," "Hollywood," "Writing and Creativity," and, most intriguing of all to longtime Bradbury aficionados, "The Lost Paris Review Interview." Conducted in 1976, that meandering bit of journalism was nixed by George Plimpton for being "a bit informal," but if there's one thing you take away from Sam Weller's collected conversations with this legendary and enormously influential icon/writer, it's that he's as self-contradictory as the next guy – and chattily informal. Bradbury's prose, which at its best – in the novels Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as in his short story collections from the Fifties, The Martian Chronicles and The October Country – is as evocative and deeply humanistic as anything Kurt Vonnegut ever pulled off, often spilling over the edge of prose into downright lyrical poetry. There's a reason his short works are still read in high school English classes, alongside Poe and Crane and Benét: They're the crown jewels of a difficult and vanishing art form, simultaneously spare and lush, dense with nonverbal emotion, and models of economic narrative storytelling. Bradbury's famous quirks – he won't drive a car, and he didn't fly in a plane until he was well into his 60s (he turns 90 this month) – are so well known that they barely rate a mention here. What's more interesting are choice tidbits from his past that relate directly to current cultural mores: On the gay marriage issue, he recounts his (platonic, straight) friendship with Rock Hudson; on gender roles as a whole, he confides that, "Men are the inferior sex ... the male ego is the problem in the world everywhere"; and on his famous nonrelationship with computers and the Internet, which, as any honest writer will agree, are "a distraction ... I don't care what they say about e-books. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book: a book is new, it smells great; a book is old, it smells even better!" Amen to that.