Reading Everything: Butler, Bradbury, Didion

The air has been sweet, breezy, and clear, the mornings cool and the afternoons bright but not the hot wet blanket that can happen this time of year in this part of the country. We’re in June’s sweet spot right now, a pleasurable time that can’t really be predicted from year to year but it is to be savored while it lasts. Even so, I haven’t taken the opportunity to sit on the porch in the evening and read at length. Last time I tried it was too easy to get distracted by the big puppy tasting the clover blossoms.

Those are for the bees, I told her in a scolding tone. She just looked up at me with a blank expression and spat out a little flower then went right on to the next. She clips the little white cap off with her teeth, rolls it around in her mouth for a minute then makes an audible paah as she spits it back to the ground.  I get the impression she’s annoyed that the little white caps keep coming back, the way she pounces in the center of one of the patches of clover each trip outside. Clip, roll, paah.

Oh well, the bees, what few I’ve seen, seem to prefer the wild strawberries this year anyway. Most of the neighbors would be appalled by so much clover on their lawn. I like the cheerfulness of the blossoms. Wishful thinking or not, I take those cheerful blossoms as a sign of a gentle summer. The sweet spot of June may just be ending today and I never got to read outside. But I did read. In the car at lunch time under a shade tree, in my favorite chair at home. The chair that I sometimes wake in after midnight with the last words of a story still playing through my head. Sometimes I read standing at the kitchen counter when I should be doing dishes. 

This week I finished Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler, three short stories in Ray Bradbury’s I Sing The Body Electric, and several pieces in We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live, by Joan Didion. All of these are physical books, two of which were borrowed from the library. The Didion collection is a book I’ve lugged from house to house for a number of years and only recently opened. God Almighty that woman can write her ass off. The landscapes she paints all around the varied pieces in this collection are breathtaking and wondrous.

Bradbury successfully mimics such an array of voices in his short story collection that I couldn’t really decipher what his intentions were. The first is so Hemingway it can only be about Hemingway, the second—if it came along a few years later—would have been thought a direct rip off of Monty Python’s style of satire. But it predates the heck out of MP.  Brilliant mimics those first two stories. The third is that voice of his alone that I went head over heels about several years ago—that matter-of-factly presented but still chilling warning against technological progress and the reliance upon it. Hubris and the future won’t mix well, he says in The Veldt, in Fahrenheit 451, and in Tomorrow’s Child.

Clay’s Ark was a great deal more brutal that my first two reads from Butler’s body of work. A different kind of brutal than Kindred. It’s violent, horrifying, and of course, Butler made it delicious. Much as I love Bradbury some of his stories make me squint and catch myself saying eh … come on Ray. Butler’s never do that. I just accept every word as truth.

Last night we sat beneath one of those skies that’s often featured in werewolf movies, eerily wispy white clouds, black sky, and big moon. Today the air is murky and promising storms. The clover has stopped spreading and doesn’t look so cheerful anymore but gardenias are blooming by the front entry. They smell dreamy.


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