Book Review: Travels by Michael Crichton

It so happened on the 4th of July 2012 I was temporarily sojourning on Coronado Island in San Diego.  When I wandered to the main street of the town to get some air and exercise, lo and behold a parade was in progress.  The streets were packed with people hawking all sorts of wares.  Being the inveterate bookworm that I am, I searched for a used book stall.  I had almost given up when I found one far up the street outside the public library.  All the volumes were laid out fairly neatly in boxes which I scoured meticulously.

I came across this volume by Michael Crichton.  I have always been content to watch the movie versions of his works and never really felt the urge to read his books – a feeling I also had about Stephen King, until a few of his books had such compelling subject matter that I just had to give them a try, in particular “On Writing” and “11/22/63”.  Anyway, as far as the Crichton tome was concerned, I picked it up for two reasons.  First of all, I didn’t want to leave the book stall with nothing and I hadn’t found anything else of interest.  Secondly, I like well-written travel books.  So I decided to give it a try.

Having completed it, I have several observations.  First of all, it is not a travel book in the strict sense of the word.  The main subject is not travel.  There are some essays on travel, several of which are fascinating, but almost a third of the book, the beginning, is about his experiences in medical school; these were all right but nothing special, and if it were not for the fact that I am always loathe to cast a book aside once I have begun it, I might have stopped reading.  Another third or more of the book deals with his experiences investigating paranormal phenomena.  I wouldn’t have minded a chapter or two on the subject, but he goes on and on and it gets a bit boring.  The last chapter is a formal defense of paranormal phenomena, and this truly was boring, and I almost tossed the book aside with only ten or twenty pages to go – but I didn’t.  I have no problem with Crichton including disparate essays in his book – it is his book, after all, but I think he should have named it something else.

As I said, some of the articles were fascinating.  One of the best deals with a difficult trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Another is about the time he directed the film “The Great Train Robbery” in Ireland, and he includes a lot of interesting anecdotes about working with the actor Sean Connery.

One other point about the travel essays, though, that annoyed me was that Crichton approaches his travel from the standpoint of a wealthy man.  He achieved success at an early age; his books became best-sellers and several were turned into popular films.  He had the money to throw around to stay at the best hotels and secure the safest, most reliable transportation, so that his travels rarely come across as adventures but rather expensive, carefully orchestrated holidays.  How different from myself; when I wanted to travel I had to stick out my thumb and hitchhike, as I had no money for transportation.  Starting out like that I managed to stay on the road for years and circle the globe twice.  Still, his style is very readable and I wish he would have filled the book with his travel experiences and not diverted into other subjects.

I also wish he would have written more about his writing and filmmaking and how it all fit in with his traveling.  I would have loved to have read details about his writing habits and techniques, as well as more anecdotes about the famous people he has worked with.  Alas, the book I wish he had written is not the one he wrote.  For this reason, I cannot recommend this book in toto, but only certain sections of it.

However, though for me this book was a disappointment, I recognized a clean, clear writing style which could be put to good effect in fiction, and it caused me to go out and find one of his books, “Jurassic Park”, to read when I get a chance and find out if my hunch is correct.  Thus I have paid him the greatest complement you can pay a writer: to desire to read more of his work.

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