It was Wild Bill Shakespeare himself who once penned the words “What’s in a name. That which we call a rose/By any other name should smell as sweet.” The words are spoken by one of the Bard’s more famous female characters, Juliet of House Capulet. She’s telling the hours-old love of her life that she doesn’t care that his last name of Montague brands him an enemy of her house. Whatever his name was, she would love him anyways.
Once you’re able to part the curtain of deep sighs and introspective smiles at this grand romantic gesture, however, you find that you can’t count on Juliet’s statement as book recommendation advice. And really, shouldn’t that be what’s most important here? I mean, that play would be even better if it was about Juliet recommending books to Romeo rather than “falling in love” in the course of three days and faking her own death and being dumb and…and…and…
Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
When composing an email to Ernest Cline it’s tempting to start babbling about your own geeky passions and experiences, to document the ways in which they overlap or intersect with things you’ve heard him talk about. It’s tempting to point out all the ways in which you had similar experiences, were born just years apart, watched that movie at about the same time, have daughters who are almost the same age. It’s really tempting to talk about how you read that he did X, and how you also did and/or loved this X-adjacent thing that is very similar or possibly exactly the same and wow I can’t believe you remember Y because I thought I was the only one who played/read/saw/loved that thing. It’s really tempting, but you don’t do it.
Instead, you stare at your gmail inbox and wonder about that impulse, the desire to share and connect and gush, and you come to the conclusion that while it’s not really appropriate in this particular case, the impulse itself is just fine. Pretty great even. Because the impulse is not about geek cred, or one-upsmanship, or a “notice me notice me” mentality. It’s really about bonding, about the power of–to paraphrase some other famousnerds–being “unironically enthusiastic” about stuff, “being honest about what you enjoy” and being willing to raise your hand and say, “Hey! I LOVE this! Do you maybe love it too?”even when the thing you love isn’t necessarily cool or even geek-cool. Geek solidarity is about unapologetically loving the stuff you love, and connecting with other people who love stuff and are unapologetic too. Felicia Day says being a geek is “more than the hobbies we do or the things that we like,” that a geek is an “outsider, a rebel, a dreamer, a creator, whether it’s our own world or someone else’s. It’s a fighter. It’s a person who dares to love something that isn’t conventional.” I don’t know if I embody all those bold ideas, but I know that Ernie Cline inspires this kind of geek camaraderie through the sheer force of his knowledge and passion and vocal enthusiasm. Read Ready Player One or Armada and tell me you don’t want to immediately sit down and discuss the minutae of arcade games, Schoolhouse Rock, or The Last Starfighter. I know you want to.
I know that even when you try you’re bound to slip a reference to that text-based 80s computer game or that semi-obscure cult film into your email to him even though you’re trying desperately to be “professional.” I know that it will be impossible not to gush a little bit (or a lot) and that he will be really cool about it anyway. Probably because geek solidarity, probably because he’s a cool guy.
Thanks, Ernie, for taking the time to talk with me. MTFBWYA (too.)
Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
I was a socially awkward kid who spent most of his free time immersed in video games, science fiction novels, or playing Dungeons & Dragons with my equally geeky friends.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Initially, I wanted to write for the movies. At the time, it seemed like one of the coolest jobs imaginable. Film had a profound effect on my worldview, and on the culture at large, and I knew I wanted to be involved in the art form somehow, if I could.
What were your high school years like?
Like the characters in my novels, I spent a lot of time staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure. I also wrote for the school literary magazine and newspaper a couple of years. My English teacher in Junior High, Mr. Craig Whitmore, was a huge influence on me. He was the first teacher of mine to encourage me to pursue a career as a writer. We’re still friends to this day. He’s become a novelist now, too.
One of my fondest memories from my childhood is that of long days spent hunched in front of the TV, my NES controller sweaty in my hands as I tried fruitlessly to conquer whatever Mario level I was playing at the time. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 when I started playing, but it brought a kind of joy to my life that was unmatched. It was me saving the princess, fighting dragons, and exploring new lands, and it opened my eyes to new kinds of entertainment.
Over the years, I’ve evolved as a gamer. I’ve seen the transition from 2d sprites to fully-realized 3d worlds. I’ve played good games and bad. I’ve refined my tastes and discovered the satisfaction that comes from beating a game after a particularly hard final boss (here’s looking at you, Kingdom Hearts!). And a couple years ago, I accomplished my life-long goal of finally beating the original Super Mario Bros. game that stumped me throughout my childhood!
I love gaming with a passion unmatched by almost anything else, but one of the hobbies I love slightly more is reading. When those two things come together, I fall hard. Every. Single. Time. Anything can happen in a video game, the more outrageous the better, which gives authors an unrestricted amount of freedom to create a living universe peopled with amazing characters and peppered with allusions and references that can make the nerdiest among us swoon with delight. Here are just a few of my personal favorites!
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In a futuristic world in which alien invasions and wars are the norm, Ender Wiggins is bred to be a genius and then drafted into a rigorous training program. Torn away from his parents and family, Ender’s new home is the Battle School, where recruits are divided into teams to hold mock battles and test their military strategy. Facing pressure and loneliness, Ender develops as a leader who could hold the fate of the world in his hands. An oldie but goodie, Ender’s Game has definitely stood the test of time, even spawning a recent film adaptation. Orson Scott Card was the recipient of the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens.
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski
Erebos is a game. One that you can’t buy. A game that watches you and knows you and influences you. When rumors of this game begin to float around the halls of Nick’s school, he becomes desperate to get his hands on it. The only catch is that someone has to invite you to play the game. When he does finally obtain a copy, he immediately gets hooked, playing for hours on end. But when the game enters the real world, Nick must reexamine what he thinks he knows…and what he’s willing to do for the sake of a game.
Given the central role that the Internet plays in so many people’s lives these days, it is hard to believe that this has been the case for less than 20 years. As with all great technologies, it has brought with it a whole spectrum of positive and negative changes, and has fundamentally altered the way that people meet friends, keep in touch across great distances, and express themselves.
Whether you want to keep in touch with friends both far and near, feel awkward in social situations, or are simply interested in connecting with others who share your specific interests, the Internet offers a whole new way to socialize, communicate and create.
Some readers may recognize the title of this post as a reference to the classic â€˜80s movie War Games, but even if you don’t, you likely relate to the sentiment of gathering with friends to play a game. This summer, researchers uncovered game pieces from over 5,000 years ago and there were probably simple games in existence far before then. Earlier this month, the movie version of Ender’s Game came out and this weekend will see the release of Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie, both of which take place in worlds where games and competitions are central. With games being such a universal theme across time, it is no surprise that they are also a recurring theme in literature. If you enjoy games and think it would be fun to read books that center around them, check out one of these great options.
The new Man of Steel movie was interesting. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. In fact, there were parts that I outright loved. However, there were also a number of problematic elements in the film, but let’s start off with the good. Henry Cavill made an excellent Superman. He wasn’t bad to look at either, and let’s face it: Superman deserves some superhuman good looks. I also really liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane as well as how she figured out that whole Clark Kent/Superman thing really quickly in this movie. It always bothered me that Lois Lane was supposed to be some super-smart journalist and yet she couldn’t even figure out that her partner, who sits across from her on a daily basis, was, in fact, Superman. Face palm.
Don’t get me wrong; I usually don’t stop there. The beauty beyond a book’s skin is what I really look for. But the cover of a book can be enough to make me check it out immediately — or to stop me from opening its pages for months. The cover is the first thing about a book I see, so of course it’s important in deciding whether or not to read it.
For me, the cover that stands out from the others is the cover I’m drawn to. I’m sure in some way they’re all designed to be the cover that stands out, but lately, it’s been easy to see the trends in the look of YA literature. Teen books can largely be grouped by their covers.
First, there are books with real people modeling on the front. With those covers, it feels like I’ve seen so many recently featuring a girl in a fancy, sumptuous dress, even when it doesn’t have much to do with the book. Most recently, Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare joined the crowd with this kind of cover (though its dress can be forgiven due to being set in the 19th Century). Other popular titles following this trend include The Selection by Kiera Cass, Matched by Ally Condie, and the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.
Those are all fantasy or dystopia books, however. Most of the other covers with models that I see are realistic fiction, so they feature teenagers in normal clothes. Usually they’re doing something semi-related to the novel, like holding hands or walking along train tracks, but often they’re ambiguous enough that the cover could be switched with that of another novel on the shelf and each would still have a similar effect.
Welcome to the first installment of a new feature here on The Hub: Reel Good Reads. Despite the super-cheesy title (leave your suggestions for a better title in the comments — I’m easily swayed!), I’m pretty excited! Each month, I’ll round up some of the most talked about new movie releases and point you toward books that will also tickle your fancy. Let’s get started!
The Movie: Perpetual video game baddie Ralph gets tired of being typecast as a villian and decides to take matters in his own hands in Disney’s newest animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. His attempt to show that he’s hero material takes him through arcade games ranging from extra-pixelated vintage gems to the latest and greatest cart racing games. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if something didn’t go terribly wrong…
Book Soulmate: If what’s got you most excited about Wreck-It Ralph is its tongue-in-cheek solute to video games of days past and its celebration of what was once considered the realm of nerds, then 2012 Alex Award winnerReady Player One by Ernest Cline has got to be your next read! Set in an apocalyptic near-future, the world of Ready Player One is filled with people who plug in to OASIS, a huge multi-player world simulation invented by one man: James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he leaves his fortune not to family or friends, but to whomever can find a set of keys hidden in OASIS. Halliday just happened to be obsessed with the video games, movies, and music that he grew up with in the 1980s, which allows this book to become somewhat of a love-letter to the decade that gave us Space Invaders, Back to the Future, and, of course, The Goonies.
This past Sunday, I gathered with a number of librarians and other ALA attendees to meet with and hear from four of the ten authors whose books were honored with the Alex Award, which is given to books that are written for adults but have special appeal for young adults. The four authors that were able to come were Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One; Rachel Woskin, author of Big Girl Small; Brook Hauser, author of The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens; and Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. Each author was given time to speak about their goals and roads to writing their books, and all four authors, in their own way, shared one idea: they wrote for themselves first.
Ernest Cline started writing Ready Player One to please himself. He was once given the advice to write the book you’ve always wanted to read, and the book he wanted to read was full of 1980s pop culture. He was very much influenced by the writing of Roald Dahl, particularly James and the Giant Peach, and wanted to include a lot of the underlying darkness in his own novel. His greatest discovery about Ready Player One, he said, is that he never expected it to go beyond a small cult sci-fi novel, let alone appeal to anyone who didn’t live through the Eighties, but he gets emails from teens all the time who love the adventure stories. To them, Eighties pop culture is more like an adventure — and since some of them read it with Wikipedia open, it really is like a create your own adventure story. Not to mention teens and their parents can make a great bonding experience out of it.
Teen Tech Weekis here! The theme this year is Geek Out @ Your Library. But let’s be honestâ€”a lot of us do just as much geeking out at home, alone, in front of a computer. Lucky for us, libraries are online, too.
The word “hacker” started to strike fear into the hearts of mothers everywhere in the early 1990s, and there’s a cheesy Angelina Jolie movie about elite high school hackers to prove it. But not every member of the computer underground is seeking world domination and destruction (that’s only the black hats). Some are technological superheroes fighting crime and seeking justice (white hats). And others are somewhere in the middle (grey hats)â€”not causing big damage, but not feeling too guilty if their skills allow them to, say, hack into the school’s system to change that B+ to an A-.
The characters in these books are black hats, white hats, grey hats, and completely-unaware-there-are hats. Some are new, and some are old; some are fiction, and some are non fiction; but they are all packed with very real hacker-style adventure. Read on for the list!