Jurassic Park is the first adult novel I can remember reading. I mean REALLY reading, as in from cover to cover.
The first novel I can remember flipping through was Little House on the Prairie. I was young enough (three? Four?) that I didn’t understand all the words yet, so I made up the story as I went along, looking at the pictures. I remember one picture, in the first chapter, of Laura running through the woods while Ma looks into a hole in a tree, both of them surrounded by grey grainy dots. I think they were smoking a pig, but back then for me it became a scene of them being attacked by killer murderous bees (I’d confused the smoke for bees in the picture, obviously).
There are two other Big People novels I can remember looking through. One was Pride and Prejudice, pulled from its dusty, musty-smelling place out of my mother’s bookshelf, where it stood proudly with its creased spine alongside all her D.H. Lawrence and Dickens opuses. I didn’t understand a word of what was going on, but I remember being fascinated by the orange Penguin Classic cover, and just the words, pages and pages of words in their tiny grey font! What were they saying? So different from my beloved Roald Dahl novels or The Adventures of Tintin! The other novel I remember looking through was The Color Purple. Its opening first sentences, referring to fathers and rape (a word that I didn’t fully understand, but nevertheless still sensed to be “bad”), scared me so bad I went out into the garden shed at our house in England and hid it there. Years later I went back in to check to see if it was still there, and it was, dusty and cobwebby and the pages stuck together as though they’d been glued.
I must have been something like five or six years old when I read Jurassic Park, since the book jacket claims its publishing date as 1990. I pulled it out of the bookshelves at the Baptist expat church we used to attend (I remember the long car rides to get there, up the hills into the bumpy Northern part of Cali, always made me horribly carsick. It didn’t help that we always went to Dunkin Doughnuts as soon as church service was over). The book’s cover, with its stark black bony dinosaur, looked exciting and promising enough to make my heart thump in eager anticipation. Apart from introducing me to DNA, this was also the novel that taught me to swear (it’s pretty surprising, retrospectively, that it doesn’t contain a single F-bomb). I remember my sister getting in trouble for asking my little brother What the hell are you talking about? And me teaching our friends at recess how to use Jesus Christ! as a profanity—I have the Ed Regis awaiting the T-Rex in the car scene to thank for that.
For these beloved memories as well as others, Jurassic Park will always hold a sentimental place in my heart. I re-watched the movie last night with some friends and was pumping my fist in the air and shouting out “YES!” after countless scenes. Best of all is the part when the T-Rex is roaring with a dead velociraptor and the fossil bones of its long-dead ancestors at its feet, while a sign flutters down from a ceiling that says WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. What else can one say in response to such a gem of a scene except “Yes”!!!
One of the things I really liked about Jurassic Park (and still like!) is the way it blends fascinating informational passages about science with exciting genre-fiction type action and suspense. My favorite passages in the book as a youngster were the rockstar mathematician’s long rants while high on morphine and explanations of chaos theory—he truly is the best character, no wonder Crichton brought him back from the dead for the sequel. I really love books that make me feel like I’m drowning in knowledge or like my head is spinning with information: Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before is another good example of this kind of knowledge-immersive novel (on the flip side, his Foucault’s Pendullum is SO information packed it’s like a sandwich that’s crammed with too many ingredients; I’ve never been able to finish it). For a while I thought I wanted to be a biologist, and I wonder now if books like Jurassic Park had something to do with that, as crazy as it sounds. It was fiction that made science interesting to me. I found this magic in brief flashes in my biology textbooks, but it was unfortunately never attainable during the long and tedious lab sessions (which is probably for the best; I would be SO unhappy right now if I were stuck working in labs all day!). My biology love lives on though; I would really love to write a historical fiction novel one day about medieval scientists in the 16th and 17th centuries, but only if I could do it in a vaguely modern style (a la Amadeus, with all my monk scientists talking like stoned, sassy hippies).
Jurassic Park is also sentimental to me because it’s like a talisman that carries through time. Haha, that makes it sound like one of the Horucruxes from the Harry Potter series, but whatever. JP reminds me that I’ve always been a reader and I always will be one. It’s a comforting though to hold on to, that no matter what happens in life, I have this to depend on: I am a reader, a writer, a book lover. I love socializing, activity, talking with people and adventuring, but at my heart’s core what I really want to do at the end of the day is hide away from the crowds and stick my nose into Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney.
I recognize other readers I run into like kindred spirits. It’s like a Gaydar. For example, during homework help hour at my job, I always like to check in with J. and his daily progress through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series. “I’ve finished the first one!” he told me last week, and I pressed my hands over my ears pleadingly. “Don’t spoil it for me!” I really need to pay my library fines so that I can place them on hold, read them and then have a conversation with him about it… God knows if there’s anybody else in his life who is willing to talk to him about books, you know? Hopefully there is…
I also love working with P., so eccentric and tormented by his math homework from his accelerated program at school. “Gah!” he scowls, reading the word problems. “That’s RETARDED.” He always gives me little sideways hugs with his skinny little arms, and it’s always surprising for me to see him in the gym, running and sweaty and shouting and throwing squishy white foam balls at other kids’ heads: it just seems like such a dissonant, contrasting environment, for a kid that I know to be so wicked smart and nerdy. Good for him, I guess, getting both the jock and the book thang down.
So yeah, I recognize myself in these kids as my peers, my descendants. A similar act of recognition happened to me yesterday, at our service project community field trip. At one point, R. (one particularly feisty little girl) disappeared along with J.D. (a kid who’s of our biggest characters). I found them lurking among the trees by the blue plastic portapotties, frowning intensely into the underbrush. “Come on guys,” I said. “Thirty minutes left. Let’s give it all we’ve got. Tear that mean ol’ blackberry off those pear trees.”
“I saw,” R. whispered huskily, “something black. Darting among the trees over there.”
I said something lame about werewolves not coming out among the daylight. “But look at those crosses,” R. said. “Look.” She pointed at one, two, three: I looked and saw some random planks of wood propped up against each other among the trees; remnants of some long ago abandoned gardening project, probably. To me they looked like unfinished chicken coops.
I was sort of at a loss of words of how to reply to her. The last thing I wanted to tell her was Oh, that’s nothing, don’t be silly. That’s not REALLY a graveyard. The last thing I want to do is look a child in the eye and tell them, It’s not what you think it is. It’s just this other mundane, boring, wordly thing. Don’t let your imagination carry you away. It was, like, a kid using her imagination! Right in front of me! Who was I to tell her not to use it? I kind of wanted to cry a little, actually (Wow, I really AM getting horribly mushy and soft in the middle! Like all those tomatoes rotting on our front porch banister!).
Anyway, I somehow managed to usher both her and the silent wide-eyed J.D. back to our worksite. But it stuck with me. I love that idea, that you can look at a bunch of crappy moldy planks of wood in a forest and see a graveyard. I did the same thing when I was her age. I do the same thing, still. I look at R. and her werewolf and graveyard visions, and J. hunched over his copy of The Hunger Games, and P. frowning and yelling over his math problems, and I think, These are my people. These kids may not recognize me yet, but I definitely recognize them. We are one and the same. Thinkers, dreamers, inventors of stuff that isn’t really there, head constantly in the clouds and too smart for our own damn good.
I don’t really know how to end this entry now. In my yoga class the other day the teacher talked a little bit about this quote from Joseph Campbell:
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.
“An experience of being alive.” I like that. I don’t really know how to connect that to anything that’s been said before, but I still like it.