Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two More Literary Lights Gone


Last week the bard of Shiprock, Tony Hillerman, died, and then the publishing world was further sadden by the death of two other prominent writers, Studs Terkel and Michael Crichton.


The oral historian does little more than hold up a mirror, just making sure the glass is clean. The practice claims to be self-effacing and world-revealing. How can a collection of interviews be anything else?

But if you look closely at these oral histories, you can never forget who has shaped them and to what end. It often seems easy to guess whom Mr. Terkel liked and who is there to make a particular point or provide ironic contrast.



Michael Crichton, who died on Tuesday at the age of 66, was like a character in a Michael Crichton novel. He was unusually tall (6 feet 7 inches), strikingly handsome and encyclopedically well informed about everything from dinosaurs to medieval banquet halls to nanotechnology. As a writer he was a kind of cyborg, tirelessly turning out novels that were intricately engineered entertainment systems. No one — except possibly Mr. Crichton himself — ever confused them with great literature, but very few readers who started a Crichton novel ever put it down.

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