What’s In a (Book) Name?

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.

image via Flickr User Leeds Museums and Galleries
CC v. 2.0 image via Flickr User Leeds Museums and Galleries

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… Continue reading What’s In a (Book) Name?

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Ernest Cline

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 famous nerds–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

Author photo by Dan Winters

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. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Ernest Cline

All Your Books Belong to Us: YA Lit for Gamers

NES-Controller-FlatOne 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 orson scott card coverEnder’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.  Continue reading All Your Books Belong to Us: YA Lit for Gamers

Teen Tech Week: YA Fiction About Online Life

TTW14_featureslideGiven 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. Continue reading Teen Tech Week: YA Fiction About Online Life