When I was in college I dated a girl who recommended I read Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” and even bought me a copy. Of course I read it. Few books have ever impacted so deeply as that one. That relationship didn’t last, but the book has remained one of my prized possessions.
The novel, of those who are unfamiliar with it, is set in small-town Illinois near the beginning of the twentieth century, and describes one poignant summer from the perspective of a boy. In many ways the novel is a series of short stories–most of them function quite well on their own, and several have made their way into various educational anthologies, such as “The Sound of Summer Running.”
One such story is when the boy and his friends discover there is a time machine in their town–in the form of an elderly gentleman who had seen much of the nineteenth century and was only too happy to relate his stories to his captivated audience. His stories transport them all to another time and place.
Bradbury was my time machine. I’ve never lived in a small town like Greentown, Illinois, and I most certainly never lived in the early 1900’s, but for a moment I was living right there alongside Douglas Spaulding and his friends, experiencing all the magic and terror of summer as a twelve-year-old boy with the world at your feet.
It wasn’t the book that convinced me I wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure there is one I could point to there. But it may be the book that most showed me what is possible as a writer. Bradbury didn’t just make me feel sadness or joy. “Dandelion Wine” runs a full gamut of emotions, and plays your heartstrings like a virtuoso. But more than that, I lived right alongside Douglas. I experienced things I’d never experienced in my own life. Bradbury gave me life experiences that weren’t my own.
I’ve never tried to emulate Bradbury in my writing. For me, I suppose, that would be like trying to copy the Mona Lisa. Even if you learned to carry it off perfectly it would still only be an imitation of the original. Only Bradbury could be Bradbury.
But the power Bradbury wielded…ah, that’s perhaps why I write: to find my own power, to be able to tell stories that strike at the very core of my reader, to be able to help them experience a story that feels real to them in a way that no other can.
That would be writing, and though I may never get there, it’s a goal Bradbury helped me decide is worth the pursuit.
What book most influenced you, either as a writer or a person? Leave us a comment below!