Tuesday, August 16, 2005

31. Dandelion Wine

by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine is by no means a new read for me and that's exactly why I pushed for it to be picked over Fahrenheit 451 for the August GB book club. Not that I haven't read Fahrenheit 451, or most of Bradbury's work for that matter, but I love Dandelion Wine so much and so few people know it even exists. Normally I'd just point you to my review, which you can read here, but this time I have another story I want to tell.

Last week the Book Cellar's book club met to discuss Dandelion Wine with special guest Sam Weller to moderate. I showed up because I've never discussed the book outside my 9th grade English class when I first read it and was quite interested to hear others' reactions to it. I also showed up because I wanted to hear what insights Sam, who has written Bradbury's only biography, might lend. But mostly I showed up because I have four favorite books, period, and Dandelion Wine is one of them.

The discussion went all right. One of the things I noticed is that there were two people trying to dominate the conversation. It made me appreciate that in our own book club, that doesn't really happen. Everyone gets a chance to talk. Even though that night's discussion had more people than we usually do, it felt like not everyone got to say their piece just because these two women would speak over anyone to hear themselves. That being said, I think Sam did the best job he could trying to moderate the discussion. He asked follow up questions to people's comments and offered some interesting background on the novel's writing. Toward the end he asked if anyone had any additional comments on the book and when people started talking after I raised my hand he turned to me and said, "Don't forget that thought Veronica. I'll get to you." True to his word, he did and when I said that one thing I loved about the book is the rituals of summer that Bradbury described so in depth, making it accessible to me even though my childhood town was nothing like the one in the book, he asked me to expand. "I remember my mother scooping out vanilla ice cream with this green, plastic ice cream scoop," I said. "And that was the beginning of summer." He paused for a second and just said, "Wow."

I fell a little bit in love with Sam that night. To see someone so excited and so moved by Bradbury's work...to be able to share that with someone was both exciting and satisfying.

Sam had two surprises for us. One was that Bradbury is publishing a sequel to Dandelion Wine. He read us the first page. The second was a conference call to the author himself so he could answer questions, talk about his writing, and, most moving, read a passage from his book. A friend asked later if this made me all fuzzy inside, to which I replied, “No…I cried.”

Never in my life would I have thought that I would hear this amazingly talented man, who is probably the greatest influence not only on my own writing, but also on how I perceive the world, read from this book that I’ve carried with me for the past twelve years, remembering where I was and who I was each time I’ve read it. You, as a fellow booklover, have to understand what that means. You would have cried, too.

At the end of the night I stood in line to thank Sam for the evening. I don’t usually go up to speak to people who put on events, because, and I know it’s crazy, I’m kind of scared of people in that way, but Sam was so magnanimous and spirited and just purely excited to talk about this man’s work that I felt entirely comfortable going up to him. I shook his hand and, still teary, said, “Thank you for putting this together…this was amazing.” Sam said that it was nice to see someone so moved by the author’s work and asked if I’d purchased a signed copy of the book, which the Book Cellar was offering. “No,” I said. “I can’t. The copy I have is the copy I read when I was twelve and that my brother read before me…” Understanding my dilemma, Sam interrupted and asked if I’d be willing to part with it for two weeks. I nodded and started to cry again, realizing his proposal. “I’m going to give you his address. Send the book to him with a letter…what I call a love letter, know what I mean? He’ll love it and I guarantee he’ll send it back.”

I did. And true to Sam’s word, he sent it back. That is why I am now in possession of a thirteen year-old copy of my favorite book, dedicated in my name, and signed with love, from one of the world’s greatest living authors. I can’t tell you what that means to me.


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12:06 AM  

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