I'm just about done reading Michael Crichton's book "Travels" and the end can't come fast enough (I'm currently stuck on a story titled Life on the Astral Plane. Yeah, go figure). It's a memoir/travel book with collections of stories from his time in Harvard Medical School and, later, globetrotting around the, er, globe as a slightly confused and dejected man of the 70's and 80's. Mixed in with the travel tales are far too many stories about his fondness for psychics, auras, chakras, and channelers. Not to mention a lengthy essay about his love affair with a cactus.
The book opens with a number of stories about life in medical school and although I didn't believe so at first, this ended up being the most interesting part of the book. From these opening essays (which admittedly do set the stage well in that they give us a real insight into the famed author/director) he begins a series of travels and failed-relationships that are far less interesting than they ought to be. And the reason for this, judging by his own writing, is that Crichton comes across as a whiny, ignorant, confused man. He used his money to travel whimsically to numerous far-flung destinations but apparently refused to do any research or preparation and, ultimately, seems to have no appreciation for where he ever was or what he was doing.
His preparation for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro consisted of buying a new pair of boots (that he didn't break in) and giving up smoking the two days prior to the climb. This story about climbing Kili was one of the ones I was looking forward to reading the most and instead of being a story of adventure and natural beauty, it was just a story of another fool disrespecting the magnitude of what he was trying to do and then whining about his blisters. On another trip Crichton got the privilige of standing atop a hill looking out over the Kali-Gandaki Gorge, the deepest gorge on earth measuring nearly 4 vertical miles from the river below to the peaks of the two mountains flanking it. Instead of being awed, taking a photo, or simply enjoying the view, Crichton simply asked "When's dinner?" And perhaps the coupe-de-grace of his ineptitude was his decision to drive to the very wrong part of Jamaica and allow a convict in line awaiting sentencing at the courthouse to escape into the backseat of his car. He then blamed this on his girlfriend.
And speaking of his love-life, the book is filled with tales of his relationship woes. In fact, the best relationship he seemed to have during this period of his life is the one with the aforementioned cactus in California. I never met the man and I do respect the work he's become a household-name from (i.e. Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain) but not only do I find this book rather unineteresting, but it's written in a very self-destructive tone. Maybe Crichton is aware of this and chose honesty over a facade, but this book makes it very hard to like the man, and even harder to respect him as a traveler.
As someone who enjoys writing travel essays and looks forward to one day publishing my own collection of stories, this book was a good example of how not to go about it. It's whiny. It's boring. And it's clear that without that name on the cover, it would certainly not be getting the shelf-space it's receiving.