Friday, June 8, 2012

'I’d love to use my typewriter again' Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

I was saddened to hear of Ray Bradbury's passing. He was 91 and succumbed to a long illness following a stroke in 2002. I was reminded of a small section of a post I wrote about a year ago:
My Sophomore classes are reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In the Afterword Bradbury describes how he considers F.451 a dime-novel. It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write at a coin-operated Remington or Underwood. He needed a place to type and the basement of UCLA's library prevented him from wanting to play with his children rather than working on his novel. He indicates that the time constraint really helped him write.

Born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920 Ray Bradbury moved with his family to Los Angeles, California. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. He spent his days at home writing and his nights reading in the library. In 1947 a collection of his stories were published in a volume titled Dark Carnival. But it wouldn't be until The Martian Chronicles was published in 1950 that Bradbury achieved literary celebrity.


What followed was a career filled with some of the most-read and most-enjoyed books of the late 20th century. Books like The October Country, Dandelion Wine, A Medicine for Melancholy, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I Sing the Body Electric!, Quicker Than the Eye, and Driving Blind captured the imagination of readers.

All written on a typewriter. 

I started to investigate a little further. Based on what I found, Bradbury had at least two typewriters. One was a Royal KMM ( #3756210) from 1947. This particular machine is in the collection of Steve Soboroff.


I emailed Steve and he let me know about the history of this typewriter.
[This] typewriter was given directly by Ray Bradbury to a film documentarian who was completing a work on Ray. It was sitting on the floor of his cluttered study in his Beverly Hills home. He gave It to Dr. Elliott Haimoff, the documentary director and producer, as a memento. I purchased it directly from Dr. Haimoff. I have a photograph of the documentary crew with Bradbury taken on the day he gave away the typewriter. [The photo] was signed "to Elliott from Ray Bradbury".
How absolutely exciting and special to have this typewriter in a collection, but Steve is well-known for his collection of exciting and special typewriters. 


The typewriter wasn't the end of the line. The typewriter embodied his entire world-view.

In an interview with the Paris Review Bradbury talked about his expereinces in writing and, more interesting to me, about his typewriter. He was asked where he did a majority of his work and he had this response with a nice recollection from his past:
I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time. 
As much as Bradbury wrote about the future, he was a staunch proponent of a far less digital life. It was only when his health dictated, did Bradbury alter his work flow.
Up until my stroke, I used a typewriter. An IBM Selectric. Never a computer. A computer’s a typewriter. Why would I need another typewriter? I have one.
Bradbury inadvertently touched on the manifold reasons that we in the Typosphere prefer our typewriters. A single use device can be more efficient than something that can do everything.

Is it any surprise that the the protagonist in Bradbury's perennial classic Fahrenheit 451 finds his own personal salvation –physical and spiritual– through a decidedly low-tech device; the book? Montag's entire world has been duped by technology and there are a precious few that realize that life is more than a digestion of technological junk-food. There is real nourishment out there and it can can be found outside the computer, outside the cell phone, and outside the television.

Bradbury frequently depicts a society grappling with the unintended consequences of human actions and many of these crises are exacerbated by technology. For me, the most powerful images of technological skepticism in Bradbury's writing comes from "There Will Be Soft Rains." In this story, titled after an identically-named Sara Teasdale poem, we see the death and ultimate destruction of a very technologically advanced house. The owners of this home were killed in a nuclear holocaust, but the completely automated home has survived. Mindlessly, the house continues its daily program of cooking breakfast, cleaning, and serving humans who are long gone. The technology is a tool for comfort and without people it is meaningless and almost crass.

High technology is a tool. The tool is relevant, but not as relevant as the person behind it. A typewriter is middle technology. The tools is relevant, but not as relevant as the person behind it. The latter is true. The former is not the case. A computer, a cell phone, a television have become the product and not the means. The speculative world of "...Soft Rains" or F451 where is slowly coming true.

Bradbury's stroke left him unable to type, so one of his daughters would type his over-the-phone dictation on a computer and fax the print-out to him. He would then edit with pen and send it back for typing. 



There isn't much more to say, so I'll end this post with the title; "I’d love to use my typewriter again. I miss it terribly, but it’s just not possible. So I get by."

7 comments:

  1. How poignant and yet intriguing! I'm definitely getting Fahrenheit 451 for my library.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. I'm a Bradbury fan, but didn't know some of that stuff. Thanks, Ryan.

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  3. Thank you, I learned a lot about Bradbury and his writing machines from this post.

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  4. Thanks Ryan. I found F451 under sci-fi, which I was into as a teenager. Just one idea: that a community might become living custodians of a library, warrants his place in the pantheon of great authors.

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  5. Thank you for the very wonderful post on Ray Bradbury. I learned many things about him I never knew.

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  6. After reading the book, actually the same edition you have pictured in this post, I read the afterword, and after reading that he typed the entire novel on rented typewriters, I found myself more drawn to the machine as a tool to achieve fabulous ends, like the book F451. Thanks for this post; it reminded me of this experience.

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  7. *Gasp* I'm saddened to hear of his passing! But, I'm joyous to know another great writer stayed with the type writer!

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