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A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library

Susan Notes:

We can all be grateful that some people still believe in libraries. And fight for them.

By Jennifer Steinhauer

VENTURA, Calif. â When you are pushing 90, have written scores of famous novels, short stories and screenplays, and have fulfilled the goal of taking a simulated ride to Mars, whatâs left?

âBo Derek is a really good friend of mine and Iâd like to spend more time with her,â said Ray Bradbury, peering up from behind an old television tray in his den.

An unlikely answer, but Mr. Bradbury, the science fiction writer, is very specific in his eccentric list of interests, and his pursuit of them in his advancing age and state of relative immobility.

This is a lucky thing for the Ventura County Public Libraries â because among Mr. Bradburyâs passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, âFahrenheit 451,â which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel âSomething Wicked This Way Comesâ contains a seminal library scene.

Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H. P. Wright Library, which like many others in the stateâs public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.

âLibraries raised me,â Mr. Bradbury said. âI donât believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students donât have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldnât go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.â

Property tax dollars, which provide most of the financing for libraries in Ventura County, have fallen precipitously, putting the library system roughly $650,000 in the hole. Almost half of that amount is attributed to the H. P. Wright Library, which serves roughly two-thirds of this coastal city about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

In January the branch was told that unless it came up with $280,000 it would close. The branchâs private fund-raising group, San Buenaventura Friends of the Library, has until March to reach its goal; so far it has raised $80,000.

Enter Mr. Bradbury. While at a meeting concerning the library, Berta Steele, vice president of the friends group, ran into Michael Kelly, a local artist who runs the Ray Bradbury Theater and Film Foundation, a group dedicated to arts and literacy advocacy. Mr. Kelly told Ms. Steele that he could get Mr. Bradbury up to Ventura to help the libraryâs cause.

On Saturday, the two organizations will host a $25-a-head discussion with Mr. Bradbury and present a screening of âThe Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,â a film based on his short story of the same name.

The fund-raiserâs financial goal is not a long-term fix. That would come only if property taxes crawl back up or voters approve a proposed half-cent increase in the local sales tax in November, some of which would go to libraries.

Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.

The Internet? Donât get him started. âThe Internet is a big distraction,â Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

âYahoo called me eight weeks ago,â he said, voice rising. âThey wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? âTo hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.â

âItâs distracting,â he continued. âItâs meaningless; itâs not real. Itâs in the air somewhere.â

A Yahoo spokeswoman said it was impossible to verify Mr. Bradburyâs account without more details.

Mr. Bradbury has long been known for his clear memory of some of lifeâs events, and that remains the case, he said. âI have total recall,â he said. âI remember being born. I remember being in the womb, I remember being inside. Coming out was great.â

He also recalled watching the film âPumping Iron,â which features Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body-building days, and how his personal recommendation of the film for an Academy Award helped spark Mr. Schwarzeneggerâs Hollywood career. He remembers lining his four daughtersâ cribs with Golden Books when they were tiny. And he remembers meeting Ms. Derek on a train in France years ago.

âShe said, âMr. Bradbury.â I said, âYes.â She said: âI love you! My name is Bo Derek.â â

Ms. Derekâs spokeswoman, Rona Menashe, said the story was true. She said her client would like to see some more of Mr. Bradbury, too.

Mr. Bradburyâs wife, Maggie, to whom he was married for over five decades, died in 2003. He turns 89 in August.

When he is not raising money for libraries, Mr. Bradbury still writes for a few hours every morning (âI canât tell you,â is the answer to any questions on his latest book); reads George Bernard Shaw; receives visitors including reporters, filmmakers, friends and children of friends; and watches movies on his giant flat-screen television.

He can still be found regularly at the Los Angeles Public Library branch in Koreatown, which he visited often as a teenager.

âThe children ask me, âHow can I live forever, too?â â he said. âI tell them do what you love and love what you do. Thatâs the story on my life.â

— Jennifer Steinhauer
New York Times



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