I can imagine all sorts of worlds and places, but I cannot imagine one without Ray Bradbury. Not Bradbury the man (I have met him. Each time I have spent any time with him I have been left the happier for it), but Bradbury the builder of dreams. The man who took an idea of the American Midwest and made it magical and tangible, who took his own childhood and all the people and things in it and used it to shape the world. The man who gave us a future to fear, one without stories, without books. The man who invented Hallowe’en in its modern incarnation.
There are authors I remember for their stories, others I remember for their people. Bradbury is the only one I remember who sticks in my heart for his times of year and for his places. He called a book of short stories The October Country. It’s the perfect Bradbury title. It gives us a time (and not just any time, but the month that contains Hallowe’en, when the twigs tap on windows and things lurk in the cellars) and it makes it a country. You can go there. It’s waiting.
A few months ago I got the idea to create a reading queue based on anniversary. There were quite a few great books celebrating more or less significant birthdays in 2009.
Continuing the idea, here’s a list of possibilities to choose from for 2010, with the ordinal in parentheses. The list is skewed to 20th Century lit since I didn’t go farther back in my searching except for certain authors — there will be scads of additional selections available if you feel like looking around. Feel free to offer any other suggestions in the comments.
I’ll strike out those I get around to reading during the year.
The Brothers Karamazov (130th) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Rhinoceros (50th) – Eugene Ionesco
The Town and the City (60th) – Jack Kerouac
Immortality (20th) – Milan Kundera
Devil in a Blue Dress (20th) – Walter Mosley
Skinny Legs and All (20th) – Tom Robbins
Cosmos (30th) – Carl Sagan
The Bachelors (50th) – Muriel Spark
The Ballad of Peckham Road (50th) – Muriel Spark
The Snake’s Pass (120th) – Bram Stoker
The Sleeper Awakes (100th) – H.G. Wells
Jeeves in the Offing (50th) – P.G. Wodehouse
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (30th) – Douglas Adams
I, Robot (60th) – Isaac Asimov
The Handmaid’s Tale (25th) – Margaret Atwood
Martian Chronicles (60th) – Ray Bradbury
Ender’s Game (25th) – Orson Scott Card
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (10th) – Michael Chabon
Farewell, My Lovely (70th) – Raymond Chandler
The Sign of Four (120th) – Arthur Conan Doyle
Baudolino (10th) – Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose (30th) – Umberto Eco
LA Confidential (20th) – James Ellroy
As I Lay Dying (80th) – William Faulkner
Love in the Time of Cholera (25th) – Gabriel García Márquez
The Difference Engine (20th) – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Marble Faun (150th) – Nathaniel Hawthorne
For Whom the Bell Tolls (70th) – Ernest Hemingway
The Cider House Rules (25th) – John Irving
Tristessa (50th) – Jack Kerouac
To Kill a Mockingbird (50th) – Harper Lee
A Canticle for Leibowitz (50th) – Walter M. Miller
Ringworld (40th) – Larry Niven
The Violent Bear It Away (50th) – Flannery O’Connor
Hemingway’s Chair (15th) – Michael Palin
Good Omens (20th) – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Still Life with Woodpecker (30th) – Tom Robbins
Contact (25th) – Carl Sagan
Green Eggs and Ham (50th) – Dr. Seuss
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (50th) – Dr. Seuss
Zeitgeist (10th) – Bruce Sterling
The Artificial Kid (30th) – Bruce Sterling
A Confederacy of Dunces (30th) – John Kennedy Toole
Steven Paul Leiva, a novelist and screenwriter, has been spending time with Ray Bradbury lately — personally, professionally and via his writings — while working on a video about Bradbury for the Buffalo International Film Festival. Leiva was inspired to write the essay below about the literary lion who will celebrate his 89th birthday next month.