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Shut the Book: Michael Crichton, RIP

It's not often I can remember exactly where I was when I read a particular book, but I can do that with three novels written by Michael Crichton, who died this week of cancer. Crichton was not the best writer in the world but he had whatever particular talent is required to be a best-selling author. His books were page-turners, or as I guess we'll have to say when books are extinct, screen-scrollers.

The first strong memory I have of reading a Crichton book is turning the pages of "Jurassic Park" while standing in line on Rockville Pike. I'd borrowed it from my friend Pat to kill time as we waited for the doors to open at Veneman's, a music store that held a massive sale every year, over Labor Day, I think. The sale was so popular--microphones $5! electric guitars $75!--that lines started forming the day before. Only a few examples of each item were available at a low-low price, so if you wanted a four-channel mixer for 50 bucks you had to be there well in advance, ready to sprint when the doors opened. Crichton's tale of dinosaurs resurrected from mosquito blood made the hours fly by.

My second memory is of reading that book's sequel, "The Lost World," in a delivery room at Columbia Hospital for Women. I happened to be there because our second daughter, Beatrice, was being born. When they say that Crichton's books are hard to put down, I know what they're talking about! I think My Lovely Wife resented the fact that my nose was buried in a novel while she was being wracked by unbearable pains. But I thought we'd have lots of time to kill--it took over a day of labor for our first kid to pop out--and I didn't want to be bored. In my defense, I did stop reading long enough to witness the birth. And I never said, "Honey, can you just wait to push? I'm almost done with this chapter."

The last Crichton book I read was "Prey," his take on nanotechnology. It was just last spring, while we were living in England. We'd rented (or "hired," as the Brits say) a car and driven down to Kent. We stayed one night at a bed and breakfast in Dover and I found myself without anything to read. I hate being without anything to read. I will scrutinize condiment labels if I'm magazine-less at a strange diner and pull my wallet from my pocket if I'm in the bathroom. The bed and breakfast had an overstuffed bookcase and from it I took a paperback copy of "Prey." It's a pretty bad book. Crichton was never much good at illustrating marital relationships (I wonder why: he was married five times) or crafting believable dialogue. But the action moved at a good clip and I knew that if I didn't finish it before we left, I could just take it with me. Who would miss a Michael Crichton paperback? As it happened, I did finish it. It's probably still there at the East Lee Guest House.

Do you have memories of reading certain books in certain places at certain times?

By John Kelly  |  November 6, 2008; 9:27 AM ET
 | Tags: Michael Crichton, books  
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When I was doing research on T.S. Eliot in 1973 in the old Reading Room (since closed) of the British Museum in London, I decided to read two later 20th-century American novels for a change. Rather incongrously I found myself reading Saul Bellow's "Herzog" and John Updike's "Rabbit, Run" in the North Library, where many of the books being studied were ancient and rare: one of those instances where a venerable library does not quite know where to place something; I think the Bellow and the Updike were paperback editions.

Posted by: cktirumalai | November 6, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

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