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A few thoughts about Ray Bradbury

You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that.

My last post was written months ago; it was a letter to the author Ray Bradbury, and I never did hear back. Just now I read that Ray Bradbury has passed away. He was 91, and I bet he was ready, but it’s still a great loss. It feels wrong for that man to leave this plane of existence. Not because he was more important, or that we should think of ourselves (humans) in those terms, but because I loved him, his imagination, his work ethic, and untarnished ability to write, think, and dream.

His mind was full of dark carnivals, martians, tattooed men, and fun house mirrors. He was just strange enough to be successful in the world of fiction, but not too strange to keep a phenomenal book like Fahrenheit 451 from every 8th grade reading list across this nation.

And that’s where I first encountered his writing.

Fahrenheit 451 is, more than anything else, responsible for my choice of career. When it comes down to it, I value ideas, intellectual freedom, and imagination more than any other thing beside friends and family, so what better job than librarian?

Guy Montag is a character who can feel that things are wrong–his job is wrong and his life is wrong. What’s missing? Free thought, agency, and love. These things are, ultimately, synonymous and Ray Bradbury understood that deep down. Any true artist does.

If you’ve never ready any of his work, you should.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Quick update

 

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A letter to famed author Ray Bradbury

(This is a real letter I wrote to the real Ray Bradbury. It’s in an envelope at the foot of my bed, so nothing to report so far.)

Mr. Ray Bradbury
C/o Harper Collins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY  10022

Dear Mr. Bradbury,

Like many students before and since, I first read your book Fahrenheit 451 in the 8th grade. I’m happy to report that its place on a school syllabus (along with the unattractive library binding, bowdlerization of the text, and artwork featuring the nude and bearded Montag in flames) did not discourage me. Instantly, I fell for the book–the large and small questions it asks about society and human happiness. As a result, my 7th grade English teacher Ms. Ickes and yourself are on my personal fast-track to canonization. (Bravo!)

Even today, Fahrenheit 451 is everywhere to me. More than any other beloved piece of beloved literature, your book speaks to me about man’s aptitudes painfully misdirected; his spirit alive beneath piles of muck, jargon, and noise.

I think of “Denham’s Dentifrice” when a new advertisement assaults my senses and throws my mind off-track. When direction is lost and purpose clouded, I think of Clarisse asking Montag if he’s happy–how profoundly the question shocks his system and changes his life. And, perhaps most importantly, I think of your book when I’m on the job. I’m a librarian and, when push comes to shove, I’d have to say that Fahrenheit 451 is one of the main reasons I chose this profession. Books and reading are always going to need advocates. So, thank you for your work, the support you’ve given your local public library, and the time you’re giving to me right now.

It’s because I value your work and your opinion that I’m writing today to ask you a question. First, a little background. You see, like Mildred Montag, I find that many of my waking hours are spent tuning in to the voices, opinions, and thoughts of others. My own personal “seashell” is a tiny mp3 player that I wear on my hip during my commute, at the gym, and, often, at my work desk. I populate the device with podcasts designed to better inform me about world events, science, philosophy, economics, language, and other topics of interest. I love listening to downloadable versions of NPR programs like This American Life and Fresh Air because I love stories, but I’m concerned that I’m running away from my thoughts.

The programs I listen to are not the vapid white noise of the sort Mildred is addicted to, but they’re still voices in my ear during much of my waking life, and I worry that it’s too much. Is it the quality of the in-ear banter that matters or simply the fact that it exists? As the man who wrote about the omnipresent seashell radio decades before the existence of the iPod, I wonder if you have any advice for me as far as my listening habits go. Do you see the potential good in this technology, or should it be avoided all together?

The programs that populate my seashell often get me thinking, but they lead me on a path. I wonder if you have any thoughts you could share on the value of allowing your mind to wander unabated.

Your friend (and life-long inhabitant of The October Country),

Corey M. Wittig

P.S. I’ve recently become a fan of Manly Wade Wellman’s work (especially the “Silver John” or “John the Balladeer” stories) and I wonder if you are familiar with Mr. Wellman’s fiction. If you are (and feel up to it) I’d love to hear what you think of his work. Thanks again.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Letters

 

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Unbound by Space and Time: Manly Wade Wellman

This is the transcript of my first ever podcast for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s official podcast Radio CLP. It was fun to record (and should be posted soon). I wanted to talk about Manly Wade Wellman, a recent discovery for me. His stuff is really incredible. I hope you dig it.

Where I’ve been is places and what I’ve seen is things, and there’ve been times I’ve run off from seeing them, off to other places and things. I keep moving, me and this guitar with the silver strings to it, slung behind my shoulder. Sometimes I’ve got food with me and an extra shirt maybe, but most times just the guitar, and trust to God for what I need else.

I don’t claim much. John’s my name and about that I’ll only say I hope I’ve got some of the goodness of good men who’ve been named it. I’m no more than just a natural man; well, maybe taller than some. Sure enough, I fought in the war across the sea, but so does near about every man in war times. Now I go here and go there, and up and down, from place to place and from thing to thing, here in among the mountains.

Up these heights and down these hollows you’d best go expecting anything. Maybe everything. What’s long time ago left off happening outside still goes on here, and the tales the mountain folks tell sound truer here than outside. About what I tell, if you believe it you might could get some good thing out of it. If you don’t believe it, well, I don’t have a gun out to you to make you stop and hark at it. (Who Fears the Devil?, 1963)

With those words, Manly Wade Wellman introduces us to John—no last name, sometimes called “Silver John” or “John the Balladeer”. John, a Korean war veteran (resembling a young Johnny Cash according to Wellman) wanders Appalachia—the Smokies and Ozarks—collecting old songs to learn and play, stumbling upon the supernatural stuff of mountain folklore as he goes—sometimes even seeking it out. And through some combination of goodness, wits, and respect for the paranormal, John lives to tell his tales.

The writing of Manly Wade Wellman, John’s chronicler, is a somewhat new discovery for me. Belonging as he does to the pantheon of unsung American storytellers of the “weird fiction” tradition, Wellman’s work, disrespected by the literary elite of his day, was for the spinning rack, never the book store window.

Wellman first found marginal success in his later thirties, when he began getting published regularly in the science fiction and fantasy magazines of the day; ones with names such as Weird Tales and Strange Stories. Even then, “success” was something relative. Weird Tales, a blend of horror and sci-fi stories, was never accepted by the masses. While pulp magazines such as Doc Savage routinely sold hundreds of thousands of copies, the heady strangeness of Wellman and his peers sold, at best, 50,000 copies per issue. Even so, Wellman built a following as he honed his craft.

His friend in later life (and fellow fantasy author) David Drake has written that, “Manly Wade Wellman was one of the most successful fantasy and S(cience) F(iction) writers of the ’30s and ’40s. His S(cience) F(iction) was generally of a juvenile nature, popular at the time but of limited interest today. His fantasy, however, was thoroughly adult. While Lovecraft and Howard were writing, Manly was in the second rank of Weird Tales authors; after they died, he became one of the magazine’s mainstays.”

“Despite the high quality of his earlier fantasies, Manly didn’t really hit his stride in the field until in 1949 appeared The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction—a digest magazine which would publish fantasy of the highest literary quality. For Fantasy & Science Fiction Manly created John the Balladeer, drawing on his existing knowledge of folk music and folklore and his growing love of the North Carolina mountains.”

The stories of John the Balladeer are incredible examples of American fantasy. Wellman’s contemporary Karl Edward Wagner has said, “Just as J. R. R. Tolkien brilliantly created a modern British myth cycle, so did Manly Wade Wellman give to us an imaginary world of purely American fact, fantasy, and song.”

Wellman’s characters (including the occult detective Judge Pursuivant, and playboy adventurer John Thunstone) are knowing guides, leading the reader through strange and eerie tales, but only “Silver John” in the mountains of North Carolina truly completes a sort of American folk story circuit. The strange and unexplained isn’t only for our European ancestors. Like a 20th century Washington Irving, Wellman taps into the old magic of our “new world”. Wellman reminds us that deep in the mountains, not so far from modern things, myth is fact and the unexplained isn’t so different from a Bible story.

Wellman creates mystery and myth out of existing folk songs and legends, allowing us to revel in our strange American history, stories, and traditions.

Furthermore, the “John the Balladeer” stories are an intoxicating read. Full of excitement, humanity, lessons, and frights. If you’re like me, you’ll treasure them for years to come.

Luckily, Wellman seems to be gaining in popularity 25 years after his death. Night Shade Books released The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman in 2001. Just last year Planet Stories rereleased a collection of John stories entitled Who Fears the Devil? with a great pulpy illustration on the cover. And keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming Dark Horse comics Silver John graphic novel adaptation by Jim and Beck Beard, with art by Thomas Boatwright. Of course, you can order these books and more by Manly Wade Wellman from your local Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in reading

 

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In the stacks: For – Gal

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On my lunch break (unless it’s a particularly lovely and comfortable day) I find a window seat in the stacks of my library and read.

In the winter, it’s the only option. In the summer, it’s often the result of a decision to be alone for a while. In every season it’s a chance to convene with the books and an attempt to get lost in a story. You’d be surprised, but (as a librarian) the luster falls away from this place rather quickly. I still love it, and I still love libraries, but making a passion (is that what this is?) a profession does have its down sides.

For a while there, I was sitting in the same couple of spots: in the summer I’m near Faulkner and in winter (mostly because of the nearby radiator) I sit near my friends Brautigan and Bradbury, but there are so many seats and, often, not enough variety in life. So, why not try to mix it up a little? Maybe I’ll find some new/interesting authors in the process.

Yesterday, I sat in the “For – Gal” area. To my left there were many books by John Galsworthy (1867-1933), an author I’d never heard of. He seems to have published a ton, they all look like old editions, and they’re still on the shelf. This leads me to believe he’s someone worth knowing. Books don’t sit too long on the shelf here before they are “weeded” (aka thrown away) so if we’re keeping a ton of Galsworthy’s novels, that means people must still be reading them.

Looking Galsworthy up on the Contemporary Authors database, I found out he “is best remembered for his collection of novels and short stories known as the “Forsyte Chronicles,” which contain a meticulous depiction of upper-middle-class English life.”

This is the creepy plot description of the book I snapped a photo of, The Man of Property: “In The Man of Property, Soames Forsyte’s wife, Irene, has an affair with an architect commissioned to build the Forsyte mansion. Soames takes revenge by ruining the architect and raping Irene. The architect later dies in a mysterious accident.”

Yikes. This is upper-middle-class English life, huh?

Eventually, Galsworthy died of a brain tumor, poor chap. Anyway, I think I’ll pass on Mr. Galsworthy. Now I’m reading The Once and Future King–a different kind of England all together.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in In the stacks, Present

 

Books are objects, or books are ideas.

I’m a librarian, and so am professionally obligated to spend a fair amount of  time thinking about books, which is not to say that I’m a very fast reader or much of a scholar. Am I well read? I guess that’s subjective. I’ve read some of what I’m supposed to, but missed many of the classics. I’ve spent a lot of time with comic books and some pulp fiction, while passing very little time with James Joyce. Twice I’ve read the first third of Middlemarch and twice I’ve decided to give up before Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw even hook up.

I recently spent the better part of three months completing a book (that I quite liked), but now I’m whizzing through the next one (though I suspect it won’t leave as much of an impression). No rhyme or reason to it that I can ascertain.

There is the undeniable aesthetic appeal to books, bookshelves, bookshops, and cafes so commonly referenced, written about, and otherwise acknowledged that I also subscribe to. Knowledge, escape, entertainment–all of these things are in books.

And while I shudder at the thought of entering the “are libraries, books, blah blah blah doomed?” debate, I would like to share the kernel of a thought I had last week: is a book on an e-reader really a book? I don’t mean to say that it isn’t still something wonderful…but is it a book? If it’s fiction, memoir, etc. I wonder if it isn’t now just a story. A text book is just information (and hopefully more affordable).

I’m not one for hyperbole (when it comes to serious matters) so I would never announce the death of the book. (Like vinyl, I think books will stick around for a long while, even if  it’s a niche market.) However, thinking about the word–book–and if it means the object you hold, spill things on, move from place to place in heavy boxes, I have to wonder if we’ll see quite as much of it in the future.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Present, Quick update

 

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Kevin Costner’s Ten-Year Plan

Tonight, Eric and I discussed Kevin Costner–how he’s going to be in the new Quentin Tarantino movie. Eric remarked that “guys like Kevin Costner just sit on their ass and wait for the call from Tarantino.” I agreed, but took it one further, surmising that Costner has had this whole thing planned–Kevin Costner’s Ten-Year Plan.

Kevin Costner’s 10 Year Plan was devised during a meeting with his financial planner (or rabbi, or life coach, or guru, or scientologist squad leader–whichever). Kevin said, “After Tin Cup*, that’s it. I’m out. I’m banking on the call from Tarantino.” His financial planner would have said that it was risky, but surprise everyone by backing Costner’s plan, citing rumors of a looming economic recession, the likes of which had not been seen since “the big one.”

“I’ll be on my private golf course with a baseball diamond on it–get in touch,” Costner would have said, “I’m going to lay low.”**

*Tin Cup came out in 1996, so let’s say 3,000 Miles to Graceland
**Kevin Costner has worked steadily during the last decade, but no one has noticed

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Present

 

I’m just away

I know this blog hasn’t had much of a personality so far, and I think that will change soon. This is just a post to convey that message, more so that I have to hold myself to it than for any other reason.

In the meantime, please enjoy these photos of friends at Kennywood. May the COGOs gas prices in your heart always be Fun, Fun, Fun.

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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in photos