Your Reading Life

Welcome to Jurassic Park … and to Reading: Movie Adaptations Create Voracious New Readers

For most of the early 1990’s, my dreams involved velociraptors. This would have concerned my parents more if it weren’t for the fact that they were indirectly responsible for these nightmares.

It was 1993, and Steven Speilberg’s movie adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was due in theaters in a month. I was eight years old and obsessed: my girlfriends and I watched as many Jurassic Park commercials as we could tape on our VHS player. In our backyards we each took turns playing paleontologist. We begged our parents to let us see the movie.

“You know,” my father said one night as I rattled on about stegosauruses, “you could always read the book.”

Up until then, I hadn’t been the biggest reader. I loved hearing stories, but when it came down to sitting down and focusing, I didn’t see the point. There always seemed to be someone willing to sit and read out loud to me—why did I have to bother to read the words myself?

My dad, meanwhile, was also just as excited for the movie. A scientist, he loved dinosaurs almost as much as he loved the planets. Until the advertisements for the film filibustered our television, my father and I hadn’t had much to talk about other than that evening’s repeat of Get Smart. Now, our car ride conversations and dinner table discussions all involved something Dad and I could both get on board with—dinosaurs.

“How about I read the book to you?” Dad continued. He glanced at my mom. “I’ll skip the scary parts.” He winked at me and shook his head.

Thus a tradition was born: every night after dinner, I would dutifully brush my teeth and wait for my dad to come read Jurassic Park out loud. I was quickly enraptured. They say to learn a foreign language you should not bother with the nitty-gritty of specific vocabulary confusions or tense structure. So is the same with learning to love to read. I let the words wash over me.

Then disaster struck: my father was called away on a last-minute business trip. We were right in the middle of the “action” of the story. I was hysterical when I found out my father would be gone for two whole weeks.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Dad said as he hurriedly stuffed shirts into his overnight bag.

But we had momentum built up! The story wouldn’t feel the same.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He kissed me on the cheek. “See you soon.”

But soon wasn’t really soon. I knew how his business trips worked—two weeks usually turned into a month.

That night, as I laid forlornly on my bed, our paperback copy of Jurassic Park splayed open on my nightstand, its spine cracked. I stared at the book. It stared at me.

Maybe I didn’t have to wait for Dad.

Mom peeked in. She had always been particularly astute at reading my mind. “You know, your father won’t mind if you read the book to yourself.”

Emily the Reader was born.

Michael Crichton’s solid handling of plot and my father’s terrible work schedule pulled me out of the muck of reading complacency and into the vibrant world of literary obsession.

I scarfed Jurassic Park, finishing it in just a couple of days. My mother, a reader herself, was thrilled by my newfound love of books, and quickly bought me The Andromeda Strain. When her friends raised dubious eyebrows at the idea of a child reading novels meant for adults, Mom and I both quickly shrugged them off. If anything, it made me want to read more adult books, just to prove the fuddy-duddies wrong.

Movies based on books receive a lot of flack. They’re never as good as their origins, we cry. They dumb down the literature. But for this young girl, it was a movie about another world that brought me into the world of reading. As I read articles mocking the arrival of Jurassic Park 4 (due out summer 2015), I can’t help but agree that yes, no Jurassic Park movie has held up to the fantastic original. But maybe that’s not the point. By 2015, twenty-two years will have passed since the original was released.

Like the dinosaurs born out of the man-made eggs, a whole new generation of curious readers could be born. And those are the kind of animals I wouldn’t mind meeting in the wild.

RIFers! When did you become a reader? Do you agree that movie adaptions can introduce books to a whole new generation of readers? Tell us in a comment!

About the Author

EMILY ANSARA BAINES is the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Her short stories have appeared in Narrative literary magazine and AngeLingo. She graduated with honors from USC, where she studied creative writing under Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle. One day Emily will live in Paris and speak French while wearing a beret, but these days she makes do with hiding out in the bookstores of Los Angeles. Her favorite word is murmur. Visit Emily online on Twitter @LiteraryQueen.
  • N

    This was tremendously written. Great job Ms. Baines. It reminds me when I really wanted to see the island of dr. moreau and my parents made a deal with me that if I read the book I could see the movie. While I didn’t enjoy the movie, it did give me a reason to read more h.g. wells and later wonder what happened to Marlon Brando.

    • Emily Ansara Baines

      We ALL wonder what happened to Marlo Brando. I assume he’s in heaven shaking his fist at us and yelling “I could’ve been a contender.” That’s when we get thunder. (terrible joke.) Thanks, N.

      • N

        thunder sounds bowling, which makes it like Streetcar?

        … Streetcar!

  • Ems’ Dad

    Ems: Glad for once I did something right (like, leave town!)!. Another example in my generation was “2001 A Space Odyssey”. In that case, you could not really understand the film unless you read the book (Kubrick and Clarke wanted to keep it an “A” movie, so they left out any overt views of “slocky” aliens, for
    example). So, I’m sure this movie spurred on a number of new avid sic-fi readers at the time …and was one of the reasons I became a Planetary Scientist, and a pilot (although haven’t made it into space yet…)…
    Keep up the great blog! – Love, as always, Dad

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      How wonderful to see you here, Ems’ Dad! You raised a very clever, funny young woman … must have been all the books (post-Jurassic Park!).

    • Emily Ansara Baines

      Thanks, Father Baines! And now I guess I better go read “2001: A Space Odyssey” since one of these days you and I will watch it together.

  • rypri

    Jurassic Park was my first “adult” book as well, which spurred me to read more, especially Crichton.

  • Ems’ Great-Great Grandfather

    Oh no! What has happened to my legacy! I was president of the anti-dinosaur society from 1882-1905! I didn’t want any of this giant lizard hooplah reaching into the mind of the youth and distracting them from important duties like learning to respect proud white men and ignoring subversive texts.

    But here I am surfing the internet from the great beyond to find not only my great-great grand-daughter infected with the this prehistoric disease but my great grand-son too!

    …but it’s still a well written article and I like the use of the word filibustered. Boo!

    • Emily Ansara Baines

      Amazing.

  • valkyrie911

    I always liked Raptor Red much better than Jurassic Park, but because of the movie it never got the attention it deserved.

    • LucyAlice

      Same here! And people never appreciated it when I pointed out the difference between a Utahraptor and a velociraptor. :)