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

Eight-year-old Emily Ansara Baines couldn't wait for her dad to read Jurassic Park to her. So she read it herself, and Emily the Reader was born.

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?

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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 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!

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.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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