Lessons from Ray Bradbury

“The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves that smelled as if the fine sands of ancient Egypt were drifting to dunes beyond the town.”

-Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes

If you work in a small library it can be a struggle to find the time to do all that needs done.  Leading the library and doing “director” type things like strategic planning, staff training, and performance evaluations must be balanced with day to day tasks like covering the desk because someone called off sick or unclogging the public toilet.  It can be overwhelming reading Library Journal or American Libraries and seeing all the innovative things larger, wealthier libraries are doing. I have found that “Keeping up the Joneses” can be a cancer to the soul.  We must balance staying relevant and battling complacency with serving our communities in the best way possible with the budget and resources we have available.

As I write this, I think about why I got into librarianship. I think about the simple joy of finding a good story in the library stacks and losing myself in that world.  When the stresses of the job get to me, I sometimes grab a cart and a stack of books and go into the stacks and shelve. The order and logic of shelving soothes my mind.  There is something fulfilling in simple tasks like shelving that is akin to the joy that people who work with their hands often feel.  I never fail to find a treasure in the stacks when I shelve. Sometimes it is a classic that I reread and sometimes it is something that I take a chance on.  Recently, I discovered Ray Bradbury’s autumn classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Written in 1962 and taking its name from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes), Bradbury’s tale is a magical concoction of the surreal and supernatural with the nostalgic sameness of small-town American life.

Set in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, Bradbury’s tale tells the story of two 13 year-old best friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who get sucked into a battle between good and evil, light and dark, when one October night right before Halloween a traveling carnival show steams in by rail and sets up shop in a clearing on the edge of town.  “In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare,”(William Morrow Publishers).

Ray Bradbury is famous for his rich word choice and Something Wicked is no exception.  As a librarian, I was captivated by how the public library played such a central role to the story.  As library regulars, both Jim and Will use the library to feed their endless curiosity and their penchant for mischief.  “Jim and Will grinned at each other.  It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.”  Will’s father Charles, the custodian at the town library, regularly wanders the darkened stacks of the library long after closing time, reading and dreaming from the ancient books on the shelves.

Although Disney made a film version of Bradbury’s book in 1983 starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, the librarian in me must say that Bradbury’s tale is captured much more powerfully in print than on film.  It all begins with these words….”The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.  He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day…”  To find out what happens to Will and Jim and the denizens of Green Town then don’t be afraid to wander in your stacks for a copy of Bradbury’s classic.

Sometimes all you need in life is a good story.  Don’t be too busy to remember why you fell in love with your job in the first place.  Take a moment to get lost in the stacks and to take a chance on a book that finds you.

-Jim Gill, Director
Dover Public Library



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2 responses to “Lessons from Ray Bradbury

  1. Thank you for sharing! I often feel this overwhelming “cancer” feeling when going to monthly meetings with the richer libraries. I have to keep things in perspective and remind myself that our patrons love our library and our great staff. I love to shelve and weed. It calms me and puts me in touch with the great books we have. Not everything is about the latest and greatest, a simple smile and how is your day going can be the best thing a patron needs that day!

  2. Patricia Grover

    Great reminder! Very excellent written piece as well. I see authorship in your future.

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