Like many of you, I imagine, I was very saddened by today’s announcement of Michael Crichton’s passing away of cancer at age 66. I first encountered Crichton’s books when I was in junior high, and my English teacher told me about Jurassic Park (this would have been in 1993, well before the movie). I found a copy of the book later that evening on my Dad’s bookshelf, which was itself enough to make me intrigued—he wasn’t the biggest reader, at least not of fiction. So I started reading before bed that night, and by three a.m. that morning, I was hooked…and not just for the night.
I’d always been a recreational reader, but that experience—at about twelve-years old—was the first time my heart actually pounded as a result of reading a book. I was amazed at the imagination, the tension, and the clarity. The science was fascinating, but not as much as the sense that an entirely new and vivid world had been created, yet was still akin to our own. Over the next six months, I read Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Travels, The Great Train Robbery, and Five Patients. My first major writing project—a full length play adaptation of The Terminal Man that was probably 80% plagiarized dialog from the book—was completed about a year later, and although I literally never showed it to anyone but my mom I remember being too excited to eat dinner one night because I just so close to being finished. Over the course of that year, I discovered the joy not only of reading but of writing.
As often happens, one writer gave way to another. Crichton begat Stephen King, who begat Dean Koontz, and these gave way to English class love affairs with John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Vonnegut. Six years after that first secretive three a.m. reading binge (the first of many, over the years) I enrolled as a Writing major my freshman year of college, and followed that all the way to graduate school and my current job as a college instructor. I haven’t read Crichton’s most recent books (I stopped after The Lost World) but I’m still understandably sentimental about those early, exciting times. In fact, though my areas of study and my material as a writer have come a long way in the intervening fifteen years, you can still trace the trajectory of my life as a writer directly back to that initial experience.
On my shelf at home, near Harry Crews and Anton Chekov, is that old copy of Jurassic Park I pilfered from my Dad’s library. It’s missing its cover, its pages have yellowed, and there are more creases on its spine than on any other book I own, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to get rid of it. And I’m very glad for that… because it just got a lot more precious to me.
My condolences to Crichton’s family. May he rest in peace.