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Josh Lieb is the former Producer and Show Runner of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. His credits include stints as Executive Producer of NewsRadio and The Daily Show with[…]

Is Ray Bradbury’s most famous work nothing more than an “authorial circle jerk”?

Question: Do you agree with your protagonist that Fahrenheit 451 is overrated?

Josh Lieb: I do. That’s something else I share with Oliver. You know, and that’s unfair – I’d say it’s unfair, I should have reread Fahrenheit 451 before going into it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. There’s inertia right there. Yeah, that’s a book I despise. Ray Bradbury, here’s another example of someone who has that long-lived writing career. Although, in his case, and I don’t need to be picking a fight with Ray Bradbury I guess, but I don’t know if it’s entirely admirable. Let me say this. Ray Bradbury–I certainly went through a science fiction phase, like a lot of teen boys do. And I read a lot of Ray Bradbury and I enjoyed quite a bit. His Martian Chronicles is some wonderful stuff, and The Illustrated Man, I liked a lot of those stories. Dandelion Wine, was that it? I just named some – and Ray Bradbury, a pretty lyrical fellow, but boy, yeah, Fahrenheit 451 as an authorial circle jerk. Absolutely. And maybe in the 50’s or whenever he wrote it, 1953 or something, the idea of book banning, book burning, seemed a lot more tangible in the wake of Nazi Germany and Stalinist purges, and McCarthyism, you really thought, boy they might get rid of books. And obviously banned in Boston, there were books banned. But, I mean, an author writing a book about how wonderful books are, preposterous, and books are great, books aren’t everything. Yeah, I found the dystopia in that book really unconvincing.

On a similar topic, on a similar dystopia—1984, much more plausible. And there’s a book about limiting thought, limiting language, destroying books, certainly. But it wasn’t about books. It was much broader, it actually looked at what it would mean as a society, rather than just that the one thing that was saving us from fascism were our books. So, yeah, it’s a bad book. I recommend you read it so that you don’t like it. So, you agree with me on it. But I think every kid sort of gets stuck reading it at some point.

You know what’s another Ray Bradbury book I remember hating was Something Wicked This Way Comes. I had to read that one too. And that was another one where it was these charlatans coming in – I shouldn’t have read any of him because they did make us read him in school, and I think he was supposed to be wonderful and to set our imaginations on fire and it’s that kind of setting your imagination on fire that I find pretty stultifying. Because it’s so, it makes such a religion of fantasy and of whimsy, and of you know, real fantasy, and real whimsy is a lot more grounded and less flowery, I think. And not that Lewis Carroll is grounded, but there’s a plausibility there where I think the main word you can use to describe Ray Bradbury’s aesthetic sense is when he’s reaching for something great, is artsy fartsy, and it just doesn’t do anything. Like Lewis Carroll, there’s nothing arts fartsy about Lewis Carroll. Daniel Pinkwater, in no way artsy fartsy. He can write an entire children’s story about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Private Detective. And that is pure whimsy. But there are neither arts nor farts in there. You don’t read Something Wicked This Way Comes either. Kids, if your teacher asks, say I would prefer to read The Last Guru, or Young Adult Novel, by Daniel Pinkwater.

Recorded on:  October 9, 2009. Interviewed by Paul Hoffman.