BRADBURY: AN ILLUSTRATED LIFE
by Jerry Weist
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Jerry Weist's Bradbury: An Illustrated Life is a book that cries out to be read twice. The first time it is read, the reader can focus on Weist's informative, but ultimately all too brief, narrative of Bradbury's life and works. The second time through, knowing the outline, the focus becomes one of the exceptional collection of photos, cover shots, and drawings which serve to provide the subtitle of this exceptional book.
One of the book's minor faults occurs in its layout. Frequently, the continuation of Weist's narrative of Bradbury's life is lost amidst a plethora of illustrations and captions, often being interrupted for several pages before being picked up again. Weist's text is quite well written and provides the reader with a lot of information about Bradbury. Nevertheless, the reader is left with the desire to know more about Bradbury. Most of what Weist has provided deals specifically with Bradbury's life in science fiction. Although Bradbury's wife, Maggie, is mentioned once, we learned nothing about her in the book.
"Life" in the subtitle definitely takes a back seat to the word "Illustrated." The centerpiece of the book is the collection of images of Bradbury's work. Not only do these images include book covers and pictures of Bradbury, but also stills from the various films made of his works (although none from the film of "Moby Dick," which he wrote), the stage plays he has worked on and so forth. In the early pages, the reader is treated to the images of the various pulp magazines which caught Bradbury's eye as a youngster and led him down the path he chose, as well as the simple covers of fanzines Bradbury appeared in or edited.
Looking at the cover art throughout the book, one is struck by the number of covers which contain portraits of Bradbury as part of their design, from I Sing the Body Electric (p. 73) to A Medicine for Melancholy (p.67) to The Golden Apples of the Sun (twice on page 59). Similarly, on pages devoted to the various covers of a single title, such as Fahrenheit 451 on pp. 62-63), it is interesting to see how cover art has developed over the years and how different artists interpret the same story.
Surprisingly, the portion of the book dealing with Bradbury's literary output in the form of short stories, novels and collections, seems to downplay that work. A reader unfamiliar with Bradbury would come away from the book with a much stronger sense of Bradbury as playwright, screenwriter or comic book writer (although he didn't write the comics, just let his stories be adapted). This focus is interesting because it gives readers a much stronger appreciation for those aspects of Bradbury's career for which he is less well known.
Bradbury: An Illustrated Life is not a biography of Bradbury, although it does provide eminently readable biographical information of the author. Instead, it is a celebration of his work, both in writing and other fields. The book contents of the book appear almost as a museum exhibit with the copious captions and the occasional more lengthy explanation of the man and his work.
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