In 1997, I was poking around in second-hand bookstores, looking for good reads to take with me on a trip to East Africa. I stumbled upon a dog-eared copy of Michael Crighton's 'Travels' and purchased it for $1.25. Little did I know that it would become one of my favourite books and that I'd re-read it so many times that, finally, I'd have to go out and buy a new copy, 18 years later. As it was, I still remember (quite vividly) lying on a white-sand beach in Zanzibar, savouring every word of his third chapter. It was at that moment I vowed to myself only to read one story per day - to make the book last longer throughout my three-month trip.
Crichton's life was fascinating by any standards. Even whilst studying at medicine at Harvard, he was writing (including the best-seller 'The Andromeda Strain') to help him pay his school tuition. The early part of 'Travels' actually deals with his life there (two of my favourite chapters include 'Cadavar' where he describes in precise detail how he and his fellow students cut up a body in anatomy class and 'The Girl Who Seduced Everyone' which deals with his psychiatric rotation).
But even before he finished his medical degree, Crichton knew he wasn't cut out for a life as a doctor. He moved to California but, after a short stint in L.A, began travelling in earnest.
Crichton's book takes us on a riveting journey to exotic, far-flung places...Baltistan, Bonaire and Borneo, to name but a few. He dives with sharks, climbs Mount Kilimanjaro and treks in Pakistan. He has plenty of close shaves (diving off wrecks, encountering sharks, nearly falling over a cliff edge) but never loses his perspective or humour. Interspersed with his travels, he's also directing movies ('The Great Train Robbery' and 'Coma') and developing an interest in more esoteric subjects - psychics, auras, entities and astral plans (well, he was living through the 1970s!)
What makes 'Travels' such a joy of a read for me, however, is that Crichton is as fascinated with human psychology as he is with off-the-beaten-track travel. (No wonder he spent the latter part of his life directing the cult American series 'E.R.' and the epic 'Jurassic Park')
His chapter entitled 'My Father's Death' will strike a deep chord with anyone who has had a conflicted relationship with a parent (and isn't that most of us?) Furthermore, his musings entitled 'They' - where he shares his personal experience of dating women after a failed marriage - are both hilarious and astute.
It's hard not to fall in love with 'Travels,' since it's funny, insightful, challenging and daunting. Crichton is open-minded, non-judgemental and curious and his words will grab you, pull you in and stay with you long after you've devoured the last page of the book.
In my case, his words have stayed with me for almost twenty years. I tend to re-read 'Travels' every year and always find something new to ponder in it. This is definitely on my list of 'top ten books to take to a desert island.' A must-read for anyone not just curious about the world but also themselves.