I think I was 11 years old when some clever soul sent two books wrapped up as Christmas presents through the post. I can't remember who it was who sent these two books, and I had to wait, as usual, until the evening of December 24th - when my family conducted its annual festive ceremony - before I could see what they were
They were a red book and a yellow book of the same size. The stories of Ray Bradbury volumes 1 and 2. My mother was far from impressed with this present - shaking her head portentously, thinking I'd be frightened by the stories. The present-giver had known better.
Seeing one of my more precocious friends reading things like 1984 had instilled in me the desire to read, and to hopefully somehow become 'cleverer' by doing so. But what was I to read? If I were to write a page of advice to my 12 year old self it would certainly contain, in bold letters, the message "read what you enjoy reading, and don't worry too much about the rest. Give it a chance, but if it consistently fails to arouse your interest then leave it"
Reading through those volumes for the first time was one of the periods of inspiration in my life. As the above piece of advice will tell you, I don't think I always followed my nose faithfully enough - too many other things distracted me, and quite often after a period of being interested in a topic, I will get bored - and we're back to square one. But for a while that year I was enthralled.
And when you are that interested as a child, you learn things. You do so as naturally as going to sleep and waking. The next day you are in some sense a new person because your day is lit up with an important piece of understanding that was not there before, and all that you see and hear are linked to this new important fact, so you will remember it for good. It is incorporated into your life.
What I learned I cannot tell you, really. Except that when you read a good writer you get a strong dose of their personality. And what a personality his was. The preface to those stories was his passionate defence of his creative side. School friends jeered at his stories and comics, till he realised that those were not his friends, but his enemies.
This was eerily close to my own experience - the boys at school laughing at my imaginative life. I was something of a coward, and desperately wanted to fit in. I never could, of course - children are an intolerant bunch. I didn't have his moral courage, but then I never forgot his message in those pages either. The message, and the mesmerising stories stayed with me all my life. I still go back to them from time to time. There really was no other choice over how to live one's life. I clearly can not have the same personality as Bradbury. No one is the same as any other person exactly. But those books helped me find some of mine.
There's not much I can do about it now he is gone. He would want me to turn it to something positive. So I will make his death a spur to remember that lesson every day. I heard the lesson early, I'm still processing it.