Tall, dark, and iconic (Go with God, Michael Crichton)

With all the fooferah about the election on Tuesday, I didn't even hear until Thursday that Michael Crichton had died.

From the New York Times obituary:
Michael Crichton, who died on Tuesday at the age of 66, was like a character in a Michael Crichton novel. He was unusually tall (6 feet 7 inches), strikingly handsome and encyclopedically well informed about everything from dinosaurs to medieval banquet halls to nanotechnology. As a writer he was a kind of cyborg, tirelessly turning out novels that were intricately engineered entertainment systems. No one — except possibly Mr. Crichton himself — ever confused them with great literature, but very few readers who started a Crichton novel ever put it down...

All the Crichton books depend to a certain extent on a little frisson of fear and suspense: that’s what kept you turning the pages. But a deeper source of their appeal was the author’s extravagant care in working out the clockwork mechanics of his experiments — the DNA replication in “Jurassic Park,” the time travel in “Timeline,” the submarine technology in “Sphere.” The novels have embedded in them little lectures or mini-seminars on, say, the Bernoulli principle, voice-recognition software or medieval jousting etiquette. Several also came with extensive scientific bibliographies, as if the author, having learned all this fascinating stuff, couldn’t help sharing it with his reader.

Crichton came into our family via the stony gateway of Jurassic Park. My son Malachi was going on six and crazy excited to see the movie when it came out, but I was afraid it would be too intense for a guy just finishing kindergarten. Cruel beast mater that I am, I imposed the Gone With the Wind rule: You're mature enough to see the movie if you've read the book. Ike had been reading for a little over a year and was pretty precocious that way, but Gary and I were utterly astonished when he dug in, consumed, and loved the hefty novel, his first "real big book." Good as our word, we took him directly from the school bus to the movie theater the day Jurassic Park was released.

I think this is one of the most wonderful things a writer can aspire to: enticing a reader to stretch the limits of what they're willing and able to read. I always hoped I'd have the opportunity to tell Mr. Crichton about it, and I was just a degree of separation from him on a few occasions. He and I had the same editor at Harper Collins, and Chip Kidd, who designed the instantly recognizable J Park book jacket also designed the cover for my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair. But our paths never did cross. I was sad to hear he'd died so young with so many words unwritten, but I'm grateful for his moment in the life of my son, who grew up with that same burning interest in the world and all it's workings.


What a storyteller, and it sounds as if he was an amazing, fascinating human being on many levels.

We lost Tony Hillerman last week as well. Both will be sorely missed.

And your son must've been one precocious (or motivated) young reader. I've worked with a lot of kiddos in reader, and his accomplishment is a very rare feat!
Joni Rodgers said…
Tony Hillerman! I hadn't heard that. I guess he must have been in his 80s, though, because wasn't he in WWII? (Vaguely recalling an interview I saw.)

Re Ike reading early -- his K and 1st grade teachers gave me a lot of grief for teaching him phonics at home starting when he was about 3 1/2, but he wanted to learn; I didn't see any harm in playing with Scrabble letters and alphabet fridge magnets if that's what he wanted to do.

On the flip side, my daughter had zero interest in that sort of play and learned to read in school. I don't think it's something you can force on a pre-schooler. You really have to go with what they want and let them know they're not weird or wrong for being who they are. (My five cents worth of profound parenting wisdom for the day.)

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