le0pard13 is the internet moniker of a father of two, spouse to one, who blogs on family and the popular arts out of The City of the Angels. If you ask him, he'd say this about himself: 'Born in the 50s, grew up during the 60s, and survived the 70s.' The late baby-boomer (maybe I'm a Generation Joneser?) has wondered the later years with an unexpected IT job at a medical center well past a third decade now. Just don't ask him to explain it.
The One Day Read
by le0pard13 AKA Michael Alatorre
The late author Michael Crichton, besides being a very successful writer with unique perspective, was one of the first progenitors of the hybrid genre known as the techno-thriller. In many ways, he laid the groundwork with that class of fiction, which I found fascinating in books as a teen (a period oh so long ago, it seems). Though I credit my mother for her influence in making me a reader of books, it was with Crichton and his early novels where I found some of my first tangible traction in really enjoying the experience of words on a page.
Yes, I read books in junior and senior high school. There was no way to get out of that (and Lord knows, I tried). Book reports were the accursed bane of my scholastic existence back then. Whatever title was part of the curriculum, no matter whatever junior or senior high school year I was in, had to be endured and trudged through. ‘Fun’ hadn’t entered the lexicon when it came to reading, at that point. For me, at that age, reading represented work. Whatever enjoyment came of it was solely reserved for when the assignment was over.
Or, so I thought back then. It seemed only a few of the assigned materials held much for me (or it could be better said, I didn’t hold much for the material). The irony of me saying, ‘it’s academic’ at that point, was not lost on me here. I’m sure I, and a couple of my school counselors, would have found where I ended up more than a bit startling, along with my undeveloped reading habits. Few things got through the hormone haze in my life at the time, not surprisingly. Through it all, there was one day in particular which changed my outlook with the written word. It remains a high point of my teen years, and an event that holds unique sway for me.
Michael Crichton wrote the first book I read – no that’s not right… consumed is better -- in a one-day period. I’ve come to believe for every avid reader out there, early in their genesis, they collided, or somehow merged with… hell, let’s just say plunged into, that one specific book. Like no other before it, this was the paper- or hardback that somehow ended up before your eyes and wouldn’t allow you a breath till the very last page was turned. For me, that moment came on a cool day in early 1970. And the work that became the first black hole readership experience was Mr. Crichton's debut novel (at least under his real name), The Andromeda Strain.
There have been others, but this one was my event horizon with such a book. I remember it fondly, still. The 70s had just begun, meaning the decade wouldn’t really truly suck till much later. And, I should have been at school that day, but wasn’t. I was home sick from high school, 10th grade, in fact. I’ll admit here and now, I probably should have been in class. I wasn’t feverish. Perhaps, I was just a tad sick-like. I lived at that time with my maternal grandmother, along with her youngest, my uncle. He was a reader, like his sister, my mother. But, in those days, he was a Book-of-the-Month club member when it was in good standing to be so (I’d even join that very same club later when I started working). So, there were always stacks of book in this house. And he, my uncle, was away at work…
I was bored to tears being home – of course, not enough to get me packing back to school, mind you. It’s almost an axiom that boredom and ‘teenager’ don’t mix well. Some of the worst ideas come from that… but I digress. So, with mi abuelita away for her monthly doctor’s appointment, I went looking for something (meaning anything other than school work) to peruse. When I got to my uncle’s shelves, it was this 1969 hardcover that caught my eye. Scanning the back cover sparked something… maybe it was the premise or the unknown that got to me, but the hook was in.
I started The Andromeda Strain around 10:30 that morning, and couldn’t believe the pace of it all (the book’s and my own). It was the combination of curiosity, fascination, and building suspense with the material that held me. Today, this type of thriller is a staple for readers, almost to the point of being formulaic. But back then? Readers hadn’t seen this come down the pike before. And when my grandmother returned that afternoon, all I remember was her brief touch on my head for a fever as she walked past and returned to her kitchen. I think I said hi, or something… but I didn’t look up. I finished the novel just after 11 PM that night.
I did take fitful breaks that day, but the damn thing kept pulling me back in. I’d put the book down for a moment, then found it back in my hands somehow. I swear, that’s the way it was… a day now so long ago. If my wife scrutinizes this, she's gonna complain that I'm being wistful once more. It’s a habit of mine. She’s the one who tagged me with having the “nostalgic gene” (something she says she does not possess). Luckily for me, I’ve managed to pass some of this down to my kids. My wife and I are long-time readers, and if our biggest complaint is making sure our children don’t stay up too late because they’re up with flashlights reading something compulsively good, then that’s the least of our problems.
So, my questions are:
1. What book was it for you?
2. When was it?