“In the summer of 1993 the best movie ever made had been released, and eleven-year-old me had gone to the cinema to see it with [my brother] nine-year-old John. CGI Dino Mania had gripped the world and Cork was no exception – the queue for tickets was all the way down the street and around the corner. I had laboriously read as much of the book as I could, and everything that summer seemed to have the black, red and yellow Jurassic Park logo on it (I had the binder, pencil case and notebook). In special issues of Smash Hits magazine, I had read all about Mr. Spielberg’s dinosaurs and how they had been created, and I was glued to any behind the scenes documentaries shown on TV. As I got older I was finally able to understand the bits of the novel thick with genetics and chaos theory, and I progressed to more age-appropriate merchandise, like a special-edition DVD and John Williams’ original score.”
No constant reader can really chose a favorite book of all time, as there would be far too many up for the title, and too many different kinds of books for the process to be fair. However if I had to name the book that has given me the most reading pleasure in my lifetime, I wouldn’t even have to think about it: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
I first read Jurassic Park in July of 1993. In those days my family spent as much summer time as we could in a little touring caravan (berth: 4, family members: 5) that we kept near the beach at Garryvoe, Co. Cork. I’d have been bored to tears there without books, and I can clearly remember lying in the bunk above the dining table (yes, the bunk above the dining table), laboriously moving through Jurassic Park‘s pages. I had only turned 11 and was, understandably, in awe of dinosaurs but confused by chaos theory. It’d be another while before I could read it all but once I did, I did so regularly. I’ve read it at least once a year since then, and still have my original paperback copy, although now it’s all Sellotape and crease. And yet every time it entertains me, even when I know what’s coming – even when, in places, I know the sentence that’s coming, and I know it off by rote. While backpacking in Central America in 2008, a highlight of the trip was landing on a beach in Costa Rica: one of the early scenes in JP occurs in such a place, and Crichton had described it perfectly. The JP Jungle River Ride in Universal Studios may have almost killed me, but – I think – it was worth the risk. (That one time. I won’t be doing it ever, ever again.)
Jurassic Park is a true adventure, the definition of the word ‘thriller’ and the most fun you can have in 400 pages. I know a lot of people turned their nose up at reading it because “it was all about dinosaurs” but it’s so not. If anything, it’s about science, about genetics, about how the promise of making money dissolves responsibility. It’s about survival, about nature, about advanced mathematics. It’s fun, and also pants-wettingly scary. (I know wettingly isn’t a word, but shouldn’t it be?)
The movie may be dino-centric, but the book is infinitely more complex and has a much better ending. I think it’s Crichton’s best – I faithfully read everything else he produced before and after up until his untimely death, but never found anything that even came close. (I refuse to read Pirate Latitudes as I don’t think Crichton would have wanted anyone to; he wasn’t finished with it.)
So if you’re heading to a beach anytime in what’s left of the summer, or on a long flight or train journey, pick up a copy of Jurassic Park to take with you. You won’t be disappointed. You might have reoccurring a-T-Rex-is-chasing-me nightmares for the next 17 years like I did – like I do – but trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
A couple of weeks ago, while cleaning out his bedroom, my brother found our copy of Jurassic Park on VHS. It’s now standing proudly on my bookcase next to my tattered paperback. The only thing left on my JP wishlist: a signed first edition with the original cover – the T-Rex skeleton against a white cover. Soon.