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Neil Gaiman Reads “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” His Lovely Present for Bradbury’s 91st Birthday

A touching ode to friendship as a kind of mutual memory.

Neil Gaiman Reads “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” His Lovely Present for Bradbury’s 91st Birthday

“It’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality,” Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920–June 5, 2012) observed in his forgotten 1971 conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke about the future of space exploration. His long and largehearted life was animated by the romance of storytelling as he built imaginative alternate realities that expanded the scope of the possible for generations of writers and everyday dreamers alike.

On his 91st birthday, Bradbury received a most magnificent and unusual present from a kindred spirit, another of our time’s great storytellers: Neil Gaiman had written for him a story titled “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” — a sidewise gleam on friendship as a kind of mutual memory. Gaiman, who in his nonfiction has written beautifully about how Bradbury’s storytelling has enlarged our humanity, later contributed the story to the posthumous tribute anthology Shadow Show: Stories In Celebration of Ray Bradbury (public library), envisioned and edited by Sam Weller, Bradbury’s official biographer and most insightful interlocutor.

In this reading from the altogether wonderful An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer, recorded at Portland’s Aladdin Theater in November of 2011 — Bradbury’s final autumn — Gaiman brings the story to life in his own endlessly enchanting voice. Please enjoy:

I am willing to pay that price, if the empty space in the bookshelf of my mind can be filled again, before I go.

Complement Shadow Show with Bradbury on storytelling, the importance of working with love, his own marvelous reading of the poem “If Only We Had Taller Been,” and Ralph Steadman’s rare illustrations for Fahrenheit 451, then revisit Gaiman on how stories last, the power of cautionary questions, what reading does for the human spirit, and his eight rules of writing.


A Fairy Tale of Infinity and Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama Illustrates Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”

“Her skin was as soft and tender as a rose petal, and her eyes were as blue as the deep sea, but like all the others she had no feet. Her body ended in a fish tail.”

A Fairy Tale of Infinity and Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama Illustrates Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”

In her tremendous essay on fairy tales and the importance of being scared, the Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska celebrated Hans Christian Andersen as a storyteller endowed with “the courage to write stories with unhappy endings,” who “didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays … but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned.”

This courageous dedication to the richness of the human experience, across the entire spectrum of darkness and light — one which he embraced in his own life — is what has rendered Andersen one of the most beloved storytellers of all time. His fairy tales have garnered an impressive roster of imaginative interpretations by some of the most important artists in the century and a half since Andersen first enchanted the world. Now comes an uncommonly bewitching addition from iconic Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama in The Little Mermaid: A Fairy Tale of Infinity and Love Forever (public library) — the loveliest reimagining of a classic fairy tale since Neil Gaiman’s splendid illustrated retelling of Hansel and Gretel.





In this lavishly ravishing edition commissioned by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Kusama — who has previously illustrated Alice in Wonderland — brings her distinctive and deliciously weird whimsy to the Andersen classic. The black-and-white psychedelia of her illustrations, which accomplish astonishing vibrancy in the complete absence of color, are enveloped in the elegant typography of the story text, as translated by Jean Hersholt in 1949, and rendered with thoughtfulness and aesthetic mastery by graphic designer Marie d’Origny Lübecker.
















Complement Kusama’s The Little Mermaid with Einstein’s famous case for the value of fairy tales, then revisit the most beautiful illustrations from two centuries of beloved Brothers Grimm stories.


Rock Climbing and the Meaning of Life: Vita Sackville-West’s Letters to Virginia Woolf on the Intimacy-Building Power of Travel and How Nature Reveals Us to Ourselves

“I don’t believe one ever knows people in their own surroundings; one only knows them away, divorced from all the little strings and cobwebs of habit.”

Rock Climbing and the Meaning of Life: Vita Sackville-West’s Letters to Virginia Woolf on the Intimacy-Building Power of Travel and How Nature Reveals Us to Ourselves

“I simply adore Virginia Woolf… She is both detached and human, silent till she wants to say something, and then says it supremely well,” Vita Sackville-West wrote in a letter to her husband after meeting the famed author with whom she would embark upon one of literature’s greatest romances — a romance that would inspire Woolf’s groundbreaking 1928 novel Orlando, memorably described by Vita’s son as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.”

The origin of that uncommon and uncommonly beautiful love story unfolds in Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (public library). Although their relationship lasted until death did them part and metamorphosed across the spectrum of the romantic and the platonic, their early correspondence is imbued with a special kind of magic. It bears all the markings of a proper Victorian courtship, but is also fused with a certain uncontainable wildness of desire, so that the subtlest sentence can hold enormous erotic charge.

“Dear Mrs. Nicolson,” Virginia writes in one of their first letters, immediately adding a parenthetically guarded plea for greater intimacy: “(But I wish you could be induced to call me Virginia.)” Vita complies eagerly, addressing her next letter as “My dear Virginia” and adding her own parenthetical petition: “(You see I don’t take much inducing. Could you be induced likewise, do you think?)” This mutual induction didn’t take long. Soon, they were courting each other, albeit with careful psychological parentheses, though the most seductive medium they each knew — literature. Virginia invited Vita to be one of the first authors to contribute a book to Hogarth Press, the hand-printed press she cofounded with her husband Leonard in 1917. Vita gladly obliged.

In a letter from July 16 of 1924, Vita writes:

My dear Virginia…

You asked me to write a story for you. On the peaks of mountains, and beside green lakes, I am writing it for you. I shut my eyes to the blue gentians, to the coral of androsace; I shut my ears to the brawling of rivers; I shut my nose to the scent of pines; I concentrate on my story.


An amphitheater of mountains encloses one’s horizons and one’s footsteps. Today I climbed up to the eternal snows, and there found bright yellow poppies braving alike the glacier and the storm; and was ashamed before their courage… This is how one ought to feel, I am convinced. I contemplate young mountaineers hung with ropes and ice-axes, and think that they alone have understood how to live life… I told you once I would rather go to Spain with you than with anyone, and you looked confused, and I felt I had made a gaffe, — been to personal, in fact, — but still the statement remains a true one, and I shan’t be really satisfied till I have enticed you away.

For two people who barely knew each other in a temporal sense, Vita and Virginia seemed to know each other’s soul deeply — the mark, perhaps, of all great loves. Even this letter from the dawn of their lifelong is suffused with Vita’s acute psychological insight into Virginia’s conflicted genius — an intellect so fertile as to change the course of culture yet so formidable as to cut Virginia off from her heart (as Proust believed the intellect is apt to do) and from the passions of her animal self.

Escaping into nature together, Vita believed, would free Virginia from the self-imposed shackles of her mind and help her surrender to the creaturely place where passion lives. Vita writes:

Oh yes, you like people through the brain better than through the heart, — forgive me if I am wrong. Of course there must be exceptions; there always are…

I don’t believe one ever knows people in their own surroundings; one only knows them away, divorced from all the little strings and cobwebs of habit. Long Barn, Knole, Richmond, and Bloomsbury. All too familiar and entrapping. Either I am at home, and you are strange; or you are at home, and I am strange; so neither is the real essential person, and confusion results.

But in the Basque provinces … We should both be equally strange and equally real.

Virginia took more than a month to respond. And when she did, it was clear that Vita had sliced through her thickest defenses, touching into the most vulnerable core of her being. She writes back on August 19, 1924, with painful and painfully evident self-restraint:

I enjoyed your intimate letter from the Dolomites. It gave me a great deal of pain — which is I’ve no doubt the first stage of intimacy — no friends, no heart, only an indifferent head. Never mind: I enjoyed your abuse very much…

But I will not go on else I should write you a really intimate letter, and then you would dislike me, more, even more, than you do.

Virginia’s forced restraint didn’t last long. By the following summer, the two — both of whom thrived in what we would call open marriages today — had fallen madly in love and were soon writing each other exquisite love letters. While she was crafting Orlando under Vita’s enchantment, Vita’s husband wrote to Virginia in a telegram:

I am glad that Vita has come under an influence so stimulating and so sane… You need never worry about my having any feeling except a longing that Vita’s life should be as rich and as sincere as possible. I loathe jealousy as I loathe all forms of disease.

Complement the exhilaratingly beautiful Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf with Woolf on what makes relationships last and nature as a creative catalyst for art.


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