I can't remember when I first read Bradbury, but it was for sure sometime in my pre-to-early teen years (so likely sometime in the early 70s). I don't remember the first book of his I picked up to read, but it doesn't matter, really. When I discovered Bradbury, I knew I had discovered someone special.
I read The Martian Chronicles at a time when we knew the science was implausible. But that didn't matter, because the stories weren't really about a scientific expedition to Mars. (To this day, one of my most favorite stories from that collection is the story of the Third Expedition, published separately as Mars is Heaven, a haunting story of the Third Martian Expedition that lands on Mars. To their surprise, the astronauts find their perfect midwestern town, their departed family members brought back to them, and after sharing one singular, perfect day, the astronauts are all killed in their sleep by the Martians.) I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, I Sing the Body Electric, and anything else of his I could get my hands on. Because there was magic in those books, magic that so rarely exists in a book. Bradbury made me want to read, so I could go to those places.
At the time I discovered Bradbury, we had just moved to Miami. My life at that point had been as something of a vagabond, because of my dad's career in the military, and a lot of uncertainty because of the two stepmothers I had by the time I was 9. When we moved to Miami, we were very poor, and lived in a not-pretty, very urban part of town. Our life wasn't that great, and it wasn't an easy transition for me when we moved there. I was always someone who preferred to be in a book anyway. So when I discovered Bradbury, he took me to a place and time so far removed from my own, a place I wanted to be, and I couldn't get enough of that.
Bradbury had a gift for language. When I read Bradbury, even now 40 years later, I get sucked into the story because of the effortless and beautiful language. Some of his ideas may be a bit dated, but his stories are about people, so to me, they stay fresh. When I read Bradbury, I feel the wind and sun, hear the carnival barkers, see the colors, smell the meadows of flowers and grains, taste the dust. I find his language so evocative and it engages me in all my senses. Most writers don't have that effect for me.
I read a lot of SF when I was younger, and as I've gotten older, few of the writers I loved as a youth are writers I still want to read today. Bradbury is one of them. I think it's telling that over the years, as I've done book purges, which I tend to do twice a year, my Bradbury books are never culled. Over the last 40 years, I'm sure I've lost or misplaced some of my Bradbury collection, but I still have quite a few of his books. (And really, I should try to supplement my smallish collection with some that I know are missing. A trip to Half Price is in my future.)
I haven't read any Bradbury in some time (although I did re-read The Martian Chronicles a few years ago), but last night, I pulled out all my Bradbury, and selected The Illustrated Man, paired it with a lovely cabernet called Vintage Ink, and sat down to read and remember. I think this summer I'll be revisiting Bradbury some more. Seems only fitting.