Sunday, August 21, 2005

32. I Sing the Body Electric!

by Ray Bradbury

It’s unfortunate that whenever I see the title of this book, I’m reminded of an exercise program that used to come on in the 80s. Its theme song was all, “I siiiiing the body electric! I celebrate the [union? beauty? something?] in meeee!” Pink leotards and sweatbands abounded.

Anyhoo – I rescued this book from the free books box outside of Powell’s, one fine afternoon in Hyde Park. I saw it there and thought, “That’s no way to treat a Bradbury! You can’t just throw out a Bradbury!” So, even though I don’t usually pick up books that have writing in them or that are somewhat banged up, I picked up this one because I love Ray Bradbury and couldn’t bear the thought it sitting unprotected in a cardboard box outside. (What? I realize it’s an inanimate object.)

The thing about reading one piece of Ray Bradbury is that I immediately want to read more of his work. When I went on the marathon speed-read of Dandelion Wine a couple weeks ago, the only thing I knew would satisfy me was to start in on another of his books. I’d had I Sing the Body Electric! for well over two years, but had never so much as cracked it because…well…there are a lot of books out there, you know? And I want to read many of them. I get sidetracked. I must also have been waiting for the right place and right time to sink into new (to me) Bradbury because when I began reading this it felt like I was settling right into a comfortable, familiar chair that’s learned all the curves of my body and knows how to cradle me just right. That’s what Ray Bradbury’s writing is to me – soothing, familiar, and ultimately satisfying.

I Sing the Body Electric! is a collection of Bradbury’s short stories, some of which seem like they could have jumped right out of his previous novels. “Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby’s is a Friend of Mine,” follows a boy named Ralph Spaulding who befriends a writer by the name of Charles Dickens. Although the real Dickens has been, obviously, dead for some time, this Dickens dictates his writing to the boy and together the two record what becomes A Tale of Two Cities. “The Lost City of Mars” would have felt right at home in The Martian Chronicles, so much so that I checked TMC’s table of contents but found no similar title listed. The story is one of eternal searching and what happens when you finally get what you’ve been looking for.

My favorites in this collection were “Tomorrow’s Child” and the title piece. “Tomorrow’s Child” features a world in which childbirth has become an entirely painless effort thanks to modern technology. Unfortunately, a blip in these machines causes one child to be born in a different dimension, appearing only as a blue pyramid to its parents and everyone else in our world. Efforts to bring the child back to the normal world are slow and the parents must decide to continue with them or to jump dimensions to be with their child. “I Sing the Body Electric!” begins with the birth of a grandmother, long after her grandchildren have come into existence. She’s an artificial grandmother, a machine that’s been created to help families in distress – in this case the family has lost their mother. The story questions whether the programmed love of the grandmother – attentiveness, attention to detail, and longevity – is comparable to a mother’s real love and how the children come to feel about their adopted grandmother as they age.

But what I love most about the book, what I love most about any Bradbury, is how firmly and confidently he chooses his words. No phrase is ever out of place. Descriptions flow as easily as water. And with a single string he can knock me down. You see now why I could not see this book, lying unattended on the ground, and just walk on by.

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