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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Speaking from the Grave

Grave marker for Ray Bradbury. This photo was taken in May 2012, the month before he died.
Permission by Creative Commons

ONE WAY I PASS the time when pounding out a few miles on the treadmill is by listening to audio books. The practice makes being a treadmill trudger bearable. It is also a great way to experience books. Listening to a professional reader voice the author’s words gives a different dimension to reading. Presently, I’m walking my way through a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories (A Pleasure to Burn, William Morrow, 2013), all tied to his famous novella Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury has a unique literary voice and a keen insight into human nature.

This morning, as I spent 40 minutes walking without going anywhere, I listened to a couple more of the great man’s stories, it occurred to me that in a way, Ray Bradbury who died in June of 2012, was still influencing people. Me for example. His ideas, his fears, his hopes, his vision are still fresh to a new reader. This makes me wonder: Are writers immortal? Not physically immortal of course, but the thoughts of writers live on long after they’ve been consigned to the grave. There are few occupations that can claim this.

I’ve written a couple of books on church history, an effort to help the person in the pew see the many events that led to the existence of their church, whatever flavor it might be. To do this work, I used many contemporary history books, but I also leaned heavily on material originally written centuries before. Those authors are long gone but there I was hanging on their words—a twenty-first century man learning from people who could never imagine what the world would bring.

Sometimes writers help nonwriters live on. Before I cued up A Pleasure to Burn, I listened to biographer and former editor of Time magazine Walter Isaacson’s American Sketches (Simon & Schuster, 2009 reprint). The book is exceptionally well written and sketches the lives of people from Ben Franklin to Albert Einstein, from Gorbachev to Steve Jobs. Many of the people Isaacson writes about have shuffled off this mortal coil, but he helps them live on through his biographical sketches.

All of this to say that we writers must remind ourselves from time to time that some future reader, maybe a century from now, might pick up our work and draw in our thoughts, ideas, pictures, fears, joys, hopes, and terrors. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and related short stories portrays a world where books are illegal and firemen don’t extinguish fires, they start them using books and art as kindling for the kerosene that squirts from their hoses. To most, the work is one of fantasy and science fiction. To a writer, the work is a horror story more terrorizing than anything Stephen King can muster (and he’s scared me plenty of times).

Writers, great and small, first speak from their keyboard and later from their graves. Hopefully, the latter will have something meaningful for future readers, even if there is only one reader a year. I find that exciting—and more than a little intimidating.

Alton Gansky writes books from his home in California.


  1. Way back when I first tackled novel writing, someone asked me why. I said, "So that my kids and grandkids will know who I was." I think most of what people see of us is only the superficial 1%. You cannot really know someone. Even a spouse will only scratch past that 1% and uncover another 15 (my wife might say that's too much). Writers are given a great gift. We can pour all of oursevles out for the whole world to see. We may not live long enough or write enough to reveal the 100%, but we do more than most.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. The idea our words will outlast us is a good incentive to write well. It's another to make me bury a seed in my work that will reach hearts and hopefully change a life or two. Thanks for making us think!

  3. Thank you for your thoughts. I haven't read much Rad Bradbury because I'm not much of a science fiction fan; most of it is so dark and hopeless that I'm better off leaving it alone.

    But this post does bring to mind a related thought from some time ago.

    I'm not sure whether I heard the words or read them, but someone wondered why the judgment doesn't happen for each person the moment he or she dies.

    The answer was that a person's influence doesn't end when their life ends. Their words and actions continue to influence others--for good or ill--after they've drawn their last breath.

    As in the cases you've cited, sometimes for a long time after.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Best wishes,



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