Speaking from the Grave

Grave marker for Ray Bradbury. This photo was taken in May 2012, the month before he died.
Permission by Creative Commons

ONE WAY I PASS the time when pounding out a few miles on the
treadmill is by listening to audio books. The practice makes being a treadmill trudger
bearable. It is also a great way to experience books. Listening to a
professional reader voice the author’s words gives a different dimension to
reading. Presently, I’m walking my way through a collection of Ray Bradbury
short stories (A Pleasure to Burn,
William Morrow, 2013), all tied to his famous novella Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury has a unique literary voice and a keen
insight into human nature.
This morning, as I spent 40 minutes walking without going
anywhere, I listened to a couple more of the great man’s stories, it occurred
to me that in a way, Ray Bradbury who died in June of 2012, was still
influencing people. Me for example. His ideas, his fears, his hopes, his vision
are still fresh to a new reader. This makes me wonder: Are writers immortal? Not
physically immortal of course, but the thoughts of writers live on long after
they’ve been consigned to the grave. There are few occupations that can claim
this.
I’ve written a couple of books on church history, an effort
to help the person in the pew see the many events that led to the existence of
their church, whatever flavor it might be. To do this work, I used many
contemporary history books, but I also leaned heavily on material originally
written centuries before. Those authors are long gone but there I was hanging
on their words—a twenty-first century man learning from people who could never
imagine what the world would bring.
Sometimes writers help nonwriters live on. Before I cued up A Pleasure to Burn, I listened to
biographer and former editor of Time
magazine Walter Isaacson’s American
Sketches
(Simon & Schuster, 2009 reprint). The book is exceptionally
well written and sketches the lives of people from Ben Franklin to Albert
Einstein, from Gorbachev to Steve Jobs. Many of the people Isaacson writes
about have shuffled off this mortal coil, but he helps them live on through his
biographical sketches.
All of this to say that we writers must remind ourselves
from time to time that some future reader, maybe a century from now, might pick
up our work and draw in our thoughts, ideas, pictures, fears, joys, hopes, and
terrors. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
and related short stories portrays a world where books are illegal and firemen
don’t extinguish fires, they start them using books and art as kindling for the
kerosene that squirts from their hoses. To most, the work is one of fantasy and
science fiction. To a writer, the work is a horror story more terrorizing than
anything Stephen King can muster (and he’s scared me plenty of times).
Writers, great and small, first speak from their keyboard
and later from their graves. Hopefully, the latter will have something
meaningful for future readers, even if there is only one reader a year. I find
that exciting—and more than a little intimidating.

Alton Gansky writes
books from his home in California.