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{September 20, 2011}   Ready Player One

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

As mentioned in my previous post, Ernest Cline is the genius behind the movie Fanboys, a movie that quickly became a cult classic. Cline has long been one of the basement-dwelling, light-fearing group known as nerds, and this book, Cline’s first novel, pulls together what feels like every 80s geek reference imaginable. I envision Cline at his super computer, laughing like a maniac every few paragraphs as he embeds some other sneaky piece of trivia.

Ready Player One takes place in a world that sometimes feels not far removed from our own. The recession, the one we feel today, has turned into The Great Recession. Cars are abandoned because no one can afford the price of fuel. Trailer parks, instead of sprawling over acres of land, are built upward, with one RV parked on top of another. Hardly anyone conducts their affairs in the real world; instead, nearly all humanity spends their time in the OASIS (the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), the world’s biggest MMO ever. With hundreds of thousands of virtual worlds to explore, who would want to spend any time at all in the sad, bleak reality?

When the creator of the OASIS dies, a massive hunt begins to find the Easter Egg that Halliday, the creator, hid somewhere in the OASIS. Whoever finds the egg first becomes heir to Halliday’s entire fortune. The egg is hidden behind fiendishly hard clues and three gates, requiring that the egg hunter know obscure 80s TV shows, movies, music, and video games in order to decipher the riddles and pass through each gate. This is where all of the nerdiness comes in. Wade Watts, our hero for the story and an avowed egg hunter (or “gunter”), knows almost everything there is to know about the 1980s and Halliday’s favorite games and shows. Games like Adventure, Joust, Pac-Man, shows like Family Ties, G.I. Joe. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of anything and everything you remember from the 80s.

Watts is an endearing narrator, and the world of the OASIS vivid and imaginative. Reading this made me want an immersive MMO like OASIS to play and run around in. (I guess I’ll just have to deal with World of Warcraft for now.) I will admit, though, that I had a difficult time getting into the book in the beginning. It didn’t manage to capture my attention for very long in the first thirty or so pages, and I picked it up and put it down several times because I made the commitment to sit down and actually stay there. Once I did that, I couldn’t put it down. The writing style is reminiscent of a diary writer who feels the need to record almost every detail of a day, but once you get into it, you don’t notice it as much. The story is compelling and not predictable. Though I definitely didn’t catch every reference or know every game, I knew enough to thoroughly enjoy the story.

And if all that isn’t enough, the audio book is apparently read by Wil Wheaton. It is SO on my holds list at the library, even though I’ve already read it.

My recommendation: if you’re a geeky person, pick up the book sometime soon and give it a read. It’s a fun book, and I’ll bet you anything it’s made into a movie in a few years.

Crown Publishers, August 2011, hardcover, 374 pages. Buy the book here.



The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski

David Wroblewski carried around this story for years. A computer science major, he went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers so that he could tell this story in the way it deserved to be told. Originally from Wisconsin, he now makes his home in Colorado. Edgar Sawtelle is his debut novel and has been awarded with such distinctions as the 2008 Colorado Book Award and an Oprah Book Club pick while he himself was an Indie Choice Best Author Discovery.

Edgar Sawtelle takes place in rural Wisconsin near and in the Chequamegon National Forest. Edgar Sawtelle is born mute, learning to speak in a sign language that is half his own invention. He lives a wonderful life with his mother and father, helping raise and train a fictional breed of dog that respond as well to his signing as to verbal commands, until his uncle comes to live with them and his father suffers a tragic accident. Edgar is convinced that his uncle had something to do with it, but his plan to prove it backfires and Edgar flees to the Chequamegon, followed by three Sawtelle dogs. Here he learns not only how to survive but what makes a Sawtelle dog so special.

My deepest regret after finishing this book is not having read it sooner. I’d not heard of it before the Publishing Institute in July (where I was not only fortunate enough to hear about the book, I was able to attend an author visit at the Tattered Cover on 16th Street), so I think it’s one of those quietly famous books (though having a blurb from Stephen King on the back of your book certainly can’t hurt things). However, I do believe that books come to us at particular moments in our lives, even if their meaning to us waits for another moment. Reading Edgar Sawtelle even one year ago, though it still would have been powerful, wouldn’t have had the same impact as now.

Though the book moves around the Sawtelle dogs, the heart of the story is so much more. The dogs are an integral part of those workings, and through his interactions with them does Edgar transform from boy to man. In one sense, it’s a coming of age story, seen, filtered, and augmented by the dogs’ visions of events. Each dog becomes a character in its own right, capturing and holding the reader’s attention and affection. (My favorite is Essay, because she reminds me of one of the dogs in my life, though I have a deep fondness for all of them. Who’s yours?)

Wroblewski deftly weaves his narration, casting a spell that only grows stronger with each page turned. I found myself thinking that the world when I was required to put the book down felt somewhat less vibrant than the one in my hands. I felt that I knew all of the characters, I could feel and understand their motivations, and I envied them their dogs. I could see, with crystal clarity, each setting in the book. I could hear voices (in the good way) and feel emotions. Like Shine,  this book grabs you. But it’s more in the way you can’t help but listen to a supremely gifted storyteller, which is, after all, what Wroblewski has shown himself to be.

Readers who are familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will find themselves drawing parallels between characters and events. It is not and should not be taken for a modern retelling of the story. To do that would detract value from Edgar Sawtelle, for there is more to the story than revenge. So, dear reader, you may keep Hamlet and his story in the back of your mind, but do not impose anything from it onto Edgar. Allow him to tell his own story. Anyway, it’s not a direct match, so you will be disappointed if you try. If you haven’t read Hamlet, don’t worry. You’ll be in fine shape.

My recommendation: drop your current reading list and put this book at the top. Buy it.

 

Ecco Books, Sept. 2008, hardcover, 566 pages. Buy the book here.



{August 22, 2011}   “Shine” – Lauren Myracle

This post marks the first of my reviews. Over in the Books page, there’s a short list of the books I’m set to cover in the next few days. I am open to suggestions for anything to review; my spectrum of genres is going to be pretty wide since my list of books includes something from almost everywhere. I’ll keep the Books page updated with what’s coming next, but I’m always willing to derail my train for a good read. Books reviewed will be from a variety of years, some from this year, some not yet published (though I only have two), and a lot from years past. I’ve been a little lax with my reading of late.

Here’s the way this will work for now. I’ll introduce you to the book and the author, give you my take on it, my review, and end with a recommendation. I don’t do ratings systems very well; I always find a reason to rate something between the lines and hardly ever give the highest mark. So instead, I’ll have a tier of recommendations, whether I recommend reading it right now, buying it, renting it from the library, passing, and so on. Keep in mind that everything is my opinion and that I am not making money off any of this. I’m doing it for fun and to give me more of a reason to read books. It’s a win-win.

Shine – Lauren Myracle

Myracle is a New York Times bestselling author most famous for her Internet Girls trilogy (ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r), books written entirely in IM from the points of view of three teenaged girls. She’s a current resident of Fort Collins, CO, which is actually how I heard about her in the first place. I worked for an author for about a year my senior year of undergrad, and during a talk about authors, the industry, and making it big, Myracle and a few other local authors were mentioned. Shine was suggested to me as a good book I should read.

The book is hailed as a radical departure from her usual writing. This novel is gritty and heart-breaking, set in Black Creek, North Carolina, a rural, podunk town where it feels that you’ll never get out and make it somewhere else. Shine opens with the news coverage of the brutal beating of Patrick, a sixteen-year-old resident of the town. The sheriff brands the attack a hate crime perpetrated by outsiders against Patrick’s sexual orientation , and that’s the end of it. For him. Patrick’s former best friend, Cat, can’t accept that and embarks on her own quest to who did it and why.

Myracle’s narrator, Cat, is a compelling and understandable character. As she gets farther into the layers of mystery surrounding the attack on Patrick, Cat is faced with dark images from her own past that she must deal with in order to get closer to the truth. Most members of her community are unhelpful, remarking that it’s such a pity that Patrick was attacked but if he hadn’t been what he was…well. Small town prejudice prevents anything from being done in terms of the law, and Cat finds herself running up against a caliber of tight-lippedness one rarely sees. All of it serves to make her more determined to figure out what happened, but some people will do almost anything to keep their secrets from seeing the light of day.

The novel both references and evokes Matthew Shepard, the man brutally beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. His was a name I hadn’t heard until I moved to Fort Collins for college. Shepard died in the Poudre Hospital there, and Colorado State University and the GLBT community there keep his memory alive. His was a tragedy that finally brought light to the discrimination members of the GLBT community felt then and still experience now.

Shine weaves two heart-wrenching stories together, those of Patrick and Cat, and ends with redemption. Myracle’s book isn’t contrived and doesn’t turn the other way. She takes on the difficult issues and writes about them with such power that the reader feels her insides responding. I haven’t met a book in recent memory that has physically grabbed me as much as Shine has. The characters are real and act how you’d expect them to, but not in a predictable manner. Their actions just make sense once you understand their motivations. Prepare for one intense ride: You may let go of the book, but you’ll always feel it. It touches hearts.

My recommendation: Read this book as soon as you can. It’s worth buying so you can have it on your shelf and lend it out to all the people you recommend it to.

(Disclosure: The copy I read was an advance reader’s copy I picked up at the Publishing Institute.)
Amulet Books, May 2011, hardcover, 376 pages, $16.95. Buy the book here.



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