Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, the world’s societies have collapsed.  Most people seek to escape their misery by retreating into a virtual world called OASIS, a computer-generated virtual reality which holds a universe of hidden secrets.  Before his death, the mysterious creator of OASIS hid a series of “easter eggs” inside his program, with the promise to leave his enormous fortune to any gamer who could find them all.  Years have since passed, and a legion of egg hunters (or “gunters”) spend endless hours following a trail of clues relating to geek knowledge and the popular culture of the 1980s.  Wade Watts is just one more anonymous gunter, spending endless hours in the OASIS with his avatar “Parzival,” until the unexpected moment when Parzival finds the very first easter egg!  Suddenly, a huge race for the prize develops, with Parzival and the other gunters being pursued by a powerful corporation with a goal of seizing the entire OASIS.

I loved the way that this book was so fast-paced, but still managed to include a treasure trove of fun facts about the 80s.  This book will be an instant classic to anyone who grew up during that era, but even though the references might not click as quickly with younger readers, kids today will be able to gather lots of research material on the Web.  Taking a few minutes away from the story to pull up a Youtube clip from movies like “War Games” or “The Breakfast Club” will allow readers to feel like they’re discovering a hidden part of the OASIS right along with Parzival.  It’s a brilliant way to make the book almost seem like an interactive adventure, and readers will feel themselves sinking deeper into the OASIS.

Even with the moderate violence and sexual references in this book, I wouldn’t give it more than a PG-13 rating.  Reading this book is kind of like playing an awesome video game, actually, and the end result is a huge literary geekfest.  If you’ve been searching for a book that would be awesome enough to make a young gamer power down his system for a few days, look no further than Ready Player One.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Scout Finch is a precocious six-year-old from rural Maycomb County, Alabama.  Her father, Atticus, enjoys a quiet life as a successful lawyer in the 1930s, but the family’s lives are turned upside down when Atticus takes on an unpopular case.  Tom Robinson is a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the entire town seems to have judged his guilt in advance of the actual trial.  Despite Atticus’ heroic efforts in the courtroom, it’s apparent that the residents of Maycomb just aren’t ready to take the word of a black man over that of his white accusers, even when there’s no hard evidence of Tom’s guilt.

Yes, there are several mature subjects in this book, such as sexual assault, mob violence and racial epithets.  It is not overly graphic, however, and I feel that Ms. Lee did her best to paint an honest picture of the attitudes that were common during this time.  Given that the book was probably aimed at adult readers, I thought it was extremely interesting that this book was narrated by a six-year-old girl.  The perspective of a youthful outsider allows us to get a great look at the emotions involved in this scandalous crime, as well as the biases that were inherent in the judicial system of that era. 

One final reason to like this book (or if you’re like me, to LOVE it!) is the fact that it was Ms. Lee’s only novel.  Also, despite the fact that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the best-selling books of the past fifty years, Ms. Lee refuses to do any personal publicity!  She still lives in Monroeville, Alabama, the town where she was born, and maintains a very private lifestyle.  By refusing to comment the inspiration for her novel or the hidden meanings of certain parts, it’s almost as if she’s choosing to let her book speak for itself.  I think her taking a stand like that is incredibly cool, since it’s exactly what writing is all about!  Even long after you’ve passed away, the words you’ve written will still be there to live on.