By Penny and Terry Davies, Owners, The Earthling Bookshop
Hearing about Ray Bradbury’s death was certainly a shock. The Earthling Bookshop and we owed him a lot. He came to our bookshop at least once a year between 1974 and 1998. He not only was our favorite, among all the authors we hosted, but he was a good friend and supporter of The Earthling.
When we opened a shop in San Luis Obispo, he said he and his driver would be happy to go up there for a signing. (Ray never drove himself anywhere, he was uncomfortable driving.He always had his driver bring him up to Santa Barbara to see us, and to Barnaby Conrad’s Writer’s Conference).
Penny told him that “Fahrenheit 451″ was the book that inspired her to become a bookseller. He liked hearing that. He loved independent bookshops and did everything he could to support and advance them. We were amazed that he offered to drive from Venice, where he lived, to appear in our brand-new satellite Earthling in San Luis Obispo. Four hours up and four hours back, and, as always, he filled the new store with thrilled fans.
Ray never just sat at a table to sign books. Invariably he gave a little talk first. The store was always packed when we announced his coming. He would relay the following story over and over again because he loved imitating John Huston:
John Huston: Ray, I want you to come to Ireland and write the screen play for “Moby Dick”.
Ray: But John, I’ve never read “Moby Dick”.
John Huston: Don’t you think you’d better get a copy?
Ray went to Ireland, but didn’t stay with Huston on the hill. A couple of miles from Huston’s mansion was the village pub with accommodations upstairs. Ray stayed there where he mixed with the locals and drank plenty of the local booze. They amused him by telling stories of the Banshee who haunted the hills around the village. One night, he was walking back from the big house and heard the wails of the Banshee. He was laughing at himself, saying that he ran all the way back to the pub, all the while wondering if he had had too much Irish drink, or was there really “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.
He always opened the SB Writer’s Conference, advising prospective writers in very positive terms. He told them about his comic book collection when he was a child. Ray looked back on his childhood and said those comic books opened his imagination for the books he would write when he was a man.
He lamented the fact that someone told him to destroy those ‘useless’ comic books, and he mistakenly took their advice. His theme at the Writer’s Conference was: “Everything is a Metaphor”. At first, we were never sure what he meant, but by the time he was finished, we knew he was right.
After a signing one Sunday afternoon, we offered to take Ray to dinner down the street at his favorite Indian restaurant. He, in turn, invited all his entourage to come along. These were admirers who always came to see him when he came to the Earthling. Ray enjoyed himself enormously, eating huge amounts of very spicy Indian food. His face was very flushed and we asked him if he was worried about his blood pressure. ” I’ve never had a sick day in my life”, was his reply. We thought he would live forever.
The Earthling closed both locations in 1998 and we moved to North Carolina. When Ray died this week, all the good memories of Ray in Santa Barbara came rushing back.
Ray Bradbury was not only a gifted writer, he was a kind, happy man who enjoyed his life enormously. Thanks for coming into our lives, Ray, and making it richer for having known you.