Why Ray Bradbury called Fahrenheit 451 his “Dime Novel” – and other tidbits gleaned from “A Passion for Books”

Did you know that Ray Bradbury churned out Fahrenheit 451 in nine days in the basement of a library on a pay-as-you-peck typewriter?  He had to deposit a dime in a slot under the table every thirty minutes to keep typing.   Struggling to write in his home garage in the early days of his writing career,  his children were constantly distracting him—they wanted him to come out and play.  One day as he was walking past the UCLA campus library he heard the rat-a-tat-tat of typewriters coming from a basement window.   When he peered in, he discovered there was space in the bowels of the library where one could type undisturbed, as long as you brought enough spare change!   It ended up costing him $9.80 to compose his first novel.   I learned this in his charming foreword to this delightful book:


A Passion for Books, Times Books (Random House) 1991

Subtitled A Book Lover’s Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Lore, and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for and Appreciating Books – it is all of that, and more.   Edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan, the book is one to keep by your bedside and appreciate chapter by chapter.

Here’s a list from A Passion for Books that may inspire struggling writers:

Ten Best-Selling Books Rejected by Publishers Twenty or More Times

1.  Dubliners by James Joyce

2. M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker

3.  Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison by Charles Shaw

4.  Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

5.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

6.  The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

7.  Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore

8.  Aunti  Mame by Patrick Dennis

9.  The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter

10.  Dune by Frank Herbert

There are many lists in this book which are fascinating, such as “Books that Changed America” and “Ten Memorable Books that Never Existed,” and W. Somerset Maugham’s list of what he considered the ten greatest novels ever written.  But there is so much more.  Included are wonderful essays on book collecting by A. Edward Newton, and A. S. W. Rosenbach; essays by Umberto Eco, Nicholas Basbanes, and John Updike; advice on collecting books, caring for books, finding comfort in books; quotations and essays from book lovers throughout the ages.

And this, my favorite cartoon from the book, which will certainly apply to the house we live in after we are carried out in a box and the realtor comes to show it:


“Holy Cow! What kind of crazy people used to live here anyway?”

It’s definitely time to squirrel away books for the winter months, and one of my favorite subjects is books about books, which are just like potato chips…consuming one leads to another, and then another, as they always contain references to excellent books you must then ferret out and read.  A Passion for Books has an excellent selection of titles in this category at the rear of the book.

If you are interested in additional books about books, literature and publishing,  here are some currently available titles at Old Scrolls Book Shop.


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