Q&A: Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury turned 90 years old on Aug. 22, and the science fiction pioneer has no intention of slowing down. The author of books including The Martian Chronicles and the high school curriculum staple Fahrenheit 451 says he still writes every day, as he has since he was a boy. As the city of Los Angeles prepared to celebrate Ray Bradbury Week (Aug. 22-28) to honor his many achievements, the writer spoke with TIME about literature, big government and jumping off cliffs.

Fahrenheit 451 imagines a future in which books are banned and burned, and a group of people memorize them to carry them on. If you existed in the world of Fahrenheit 451, which book would you want to memorize?
I would memorize a book of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

You've said that there are worse crimes than burning books, one of them is not reading them. Why don't people read as much as they once did?
Too many junky things around. There are too many computers, too many e-mails, and too many devices. They get in our way, and prevent us from reading. If we didn't have the computers and the e-mails, we could spend more time reading and writing. 

If you were not a writer, could you imagine living a life doing something different?
Yes. I would make a great preacher. I'd make a great Pope, too. Pope Bradbury, you'd call me. 

Of which religion?
My religion encompasses all religions. I believe in God, I believe in the universe. I believe you are god, I believe I am god; I believe the earth is god and the universe is god. We're all god.

Do you have a Kindle or an e-reader?
I don't believe in those. They don't smell. A book has got smell. A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. An old book smells like ancient Egypt. A couple years ago some of these book people came to me and they offered me money to put my books on the Internet, and I said to them, "pick up your rears and go to hell!" 

If you could give schoolteachers pointers on how to teach your work, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to tell the students the secret of my books is love. All of my books are about love. If I can teach students that love is the center of the universe and that when they're reading my books, they're learning about all my love, on many different levels. 

One of your first jobs was selling newspapers. Have you ever had an interest in journalistic writing?
No, because that's just the facts. Facts are not interesting to me. I write prose poetry. I take off and fly. Journalism keeps you planted in the earth.

You're a big advocate of pursuing space exploration and colonization. Do you believe we're meant to expand into space as a race?
We should never have left the moon. We should've stayed there, and built a base. And gone on to Mars. And then years from now gone off to explore the universe and move to other planets around other stars. We had a chance of being eternal. We had a chance of living forever. We don't want to stay on earth and die here.

Many companies are pursuing commercialized space travel. Would you travel to the moon commercially if given the chance?
No, I wouldn't do that. That's not the way to do it. The way to do it is flying with the astronauts.

You've won countless literary awards, which are you most proud of?
I've been in love with Paris and France; I've visited Paris 42 times in 42 years. And a few years ago, the French Ambassador to America came to L.A. and brought a medallion and gave it to me as a gift from the French people. The medallion makes me a commander in the order of arts and letters. I'm now a commander of arts and letters for all of France. I think that's the greatest award that I ever got. 

What are you reading right now?
I'm not reading anything right now except Shakespeare.

Have you ever in your life taken a writing class?
I took a writing course in summer school in 1939, when I was in high school. But it didn't work. The secret of writing was, to go and live in the library two or four days a week for ten years. I graduated from the library having read every single book in it. And along the way I wrote every day of every week of every month, for every year. And in ten years, I became a writer. 

You're known as being anti-politics. Are you still that way?
I don't believe in government. I hate politics. I'm against it. And I hope that sometime this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it. The less government, the happier I will be. 

You talk often about loving and celebrating life and allowing passion to lead you. Why do so few people actually allow themselves to do that?
All I can do is teach people to fall in love. My advice to them is, do what you love and love what you do. Then you become free of all laws and all gravity. Teach people to float in the air and fall in love with themselves. To reach out with their hands, and let life out through their fingertips onto paper. If I can teach them that, I've done a great job. 

A maxim of yours is to "jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down" has there ever been a time in your life when you've jumped and haven't been able to build your wings in time?
All of my life, I've jumped off the cliff and built my wings. It works every single time. It never fails.