For most of the early 1990s, 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 8 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?
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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 shouldn’t bother with the nitty-gritty of specific vocabulary 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 bereft 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 I knew how his business trips worked—two weeks usually turned into a month. That night, I laid forlornly on my bed, our paperback copy of Jurassic Park splayed open on my nightstand. I stared at the book. It stared at me.
Maybe I didn’t have to wait.
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.”
And 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 down 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 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 flak. They’re never as good as their origins, we cry. They dumb down the literature. Twenty years later, when I started reading articles mocking the arrival of Jurassic World, I couldn’t help but agree that no Jurassic Park movie has held up to the original text. But maybe that’s not the point.
Like the dinosaurs born out of manmade eggs, a whole new generation of curious readers could be born, if an observant grownup shows them the way. And voracious readers—those are the kind of creatures I wouldn’t mind meeting in the wild.
Featured Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures