What I'm Reading (No. 47): Missoula + remembering Michael Crichton
I finished Jon Krakauer's latest book, Missoula, which ended up seeming more important to me than it got credit for.
I'm also remembering one of my favorite authors of all-time: Michael Crichton. Last month (which is when I meant to do this, but oh well) marked 10 years since the famed author died at just 66 years old. I've read all of his books at least once, and am in the midst of going back through his entire canon again.
This week I've actually mostly been reading The Giver series by Lois Lowry. It's our December book club read. I'm starting the fourth and final book today, and it's been totally absorbing to say the least.
Missoula by Jon Krakauer
After finishing Missoula this week, I've now read all of Krakauer's books, and they're all superb. Over time, he's gone from outdoors writer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Eiger Dreams) to investigative journalist (Where Men Win Glory, Under the Banner of Heaven). Krakauer continued in that vein with this important, especially timely look at rape and the justice system.
He does this by looking particularly at the University of Montana in Missoula, and a number of rape victims who were students there. These were perfectly "ordinary" rape cases (it feels wrong to use that word in relation to that crime . . .), and through Krakauer's interviewing and relaying of court proceedings, the reader sees exactly why many women don't come forward right away, if at all.
Most sexual assault is in fact perpetuated by assailants who are at least semi-familiar to the victim. And frankly, the entire justice system — from detectives, to prosecutors, to whitewashed and uncomfortable nurse's offices — is slanted against those victims. This is especially true on college campuses, where experimentation and drinking are rather common, and it's harder to suss out the truth. When it comes to other crimes, victims are always assumed to be telling the truth. When it comes to rape, that narrative becomes flip-flopped for some reason.
This felt like an especially important read as a man and as a father. How will I protect and inform my daughter about this cultural epidemic? How will I teach my son about consent? How can I have more compassion and understanding for women who've been raped/assaulted?
I'm actually surprised this book didn't re-emerge a bit after the #MeToo movement gained steam. It certainly should have. As fans of his will know, Krakauer's reporting is as objective as can be with this subject matter. Yes, it's a stinging rebuke of the justice system, but not in an opiniony/editorial way. He's clearly a journalist who's just reporting the facts based on years of research on interviews.
Missoula was a hard read (including some graphic details of rape), but an important one. It felt like a veil had been lifted about what the justice system does to victims of one of the most traumatizing experiences a person can have.
Remembering Michael Crichton
"As a pop novelist, he was divine. A Crichton book was a headlong experience driven by a man who was both a natural storyteller and fiendishly clever when it came to verisimilitude; he made you believe that cloning dinosaurs wasn't just over the horizon but possible tomorrow. Maybe today." —Stephen King, upon Crichton's death
Michael Crichton was not an author who was ever going to win literary prizes. Techno-thrillers just don't do that. And yet, Crichton so deftly combined science and speculation and intense whodunnit mystery into his writing that he's on another plane altogether when it comes to guilty pleasure reading. And to this day, no author that I've encountered has gripped me in the way that Crichton's books did and still continue to do, even after multiple readings.
As mentioned above, he was just 66 years old when he died in November 2008. He has 30+ works to his name, and that's just books. He also wrote TV and movie scripts, and in 1994 held the distinction of being credited with the #1 book (Disclosure), movie (Jurassic Park), and TV show (ER) in America.
I strongly urge you to even just glance at his Wikipedia page to see his body of work. It's tremendous. And makes me terribly sad he didn't live another 20 years to crank out another handful of great books.
To end, I'll leave you with my 5 favorite Crichton works (in no particular order):
Really, they're all great. Give him a shot if you haven't already.
That's all for me this week! What are you reading and enjoying? I'd love to hear, as always.