This book review is long overdue, but I wanted to give my highest recommendation for Ready Player One by Austin’s own, Ernest Cline. I put this book on the short list of the most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read. I have recommended this book to so many of my friends who all loved it as well. If you like sci-fi or you grew up anywhere near the 1980s, this is a MUST read. My 12-year-old son literally couldn’t put the book down (finished in one day) and gave it a rave review. In Ready Player One, the magic of nostalgia is powerfully harnessed by Mr. Cline. I’m going to tell you a quick bit about it (no spoilers), and why I’m recommending it. I’m stoked to say that it is being made into a movie directed by…drum roll, please…Steven Spielberg!
The following information is in the book jacket or the first few pages, so this doesn’t give away anything…I despise spoilers. Set in the dystopian future in 2044, the protagonist, Wade Watts, and some of his friends are on a quest to discover clues to the ultimate “Easter egg” hidden within the sprawling virtual world within the Oasis. Basically, everyone on Earth jacks into the Oasis, a Utopian virtual world, to escape the bleakness of the real world. One can basically be and do anything within the limitless virtual worlds of the Oasis (e.g., live out Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings). The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, grew up as a “geek” in the 1980s. He has passed away and has no heirs to his vast fortune and virtual empire. He has hidden clues within the Oasis, and it’s endless virtual worlds, for the players to find. Whoever can find the Easter Egg within the Oasis, will win his fortune as well managing control over the Oasis itself. Because Halliday grew up a geek of the 1980s, he has hidden his clues within pop and geek culture of the 1980s – such as classic arcade games, Dungeons & Dragons, movies such as War Games, and so on. The players of 2044 who are searching for the Easter egg (known as “gunters” – for egg hunters) have had to become experts in 1980s trivia, geekdom, and pop culture in order to solve Halliday’s ultimate Easter egg hunt. Cline takes us on a magical, nostalgic journey with his masterful storytelling. I found myself smiling throughout the read while getting countless “warm fuzzies” along the way as he touched upon so many samples of the 1980s that defined my (and millions of others’) youth.
So, Why This Blog?
At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, so this was a great book and a fun trip down memory lane – why blog about it?” Great question! Now, I’ve written a lot about mindfulness over the years and the importance of living in present moment non-judgmentally. In fact, I’ve often promoted the idea that thinking about the past too much could lead us to greater levels of unhappiness as we glorify that past at the expense of the present. Speaking of which, have you ever listened carefully to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days?” I think he was warning some of the dangers of focusing too much on our past. I have such fond memories of singing to that song along with my friends as it played on the car radio… 😉
The Benefits of Nostalgia With a Dash of Caution
The fact is, reminiscing about the past can be quite enjoyable. We’ve all experienced that from time-to-time. So, our own experiences let us know that this is true. Moreover, quite a body of research has found that periodic doses of nostalgia can be beneficial. Nostalgia can help give our lives more continuity and meaning and be more optimistic about the future.
There can be a danger of focusing too much on the past though, as Bruce cautions in “Glory Days.” There is a song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash called, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in which they sing, “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” This bit of wisdom rings true. Forming a comparison to denigrate the present by glorifying the past can leave us quite dissatisfied with what we have now.
I don’t get the sense that Cline is disparaging the past at all by taking readers on a fun ride through 80s pop-culture and geekdom. I can say for sure that it didn’t have that effect on me. Reading Ready Player One was a sheer delight and, judging from the outstanding reviews it received, I think it had the same effect on so many other readers as well. Heck, reading the book was such an enjoyable experience that I’m nostalgic for the sheer delight I had reading it!
A Rush Concert, Hot Sauce, and Ernest Cline
How are these three things connected? Well, if you’ve read a few of my blogs, such as my tribute to Mr. Spock, you might notice that I’m not afraid to let my geek flag fly these days. So, it might figure that I’m a longtime fan of the group Rush, and I had the chance to see them here in Austin recently. I had the luck to score some excellent seats for the show. As I was getting situated, I noticed Ernest Cline and his friends just a couple of rows ahead of me (doesn’t surprise me that he was able to score some even better tickets). I recognized him from the recent documentary Atari: Game Over.
Prior to seeing Mr. Cline, since I hadn’t eaten dinner, I grabbed some tacos at one of the grub stands at the Austin360 Amphitheater. I put a healthy dose of hot sauce on those tacos, and they turned out to be scorching! I mean, I’m used to spicy foods, but this sauce had me sweating profusely! My friends were even asking me what was wrong with me. As I was eating these lava tacos, I noticed Mr. Cline and decided then and there that I was going to fanboy the fanboy. Of course, I had to eat my tacos first and clean up a little. Since the show was about to start, I made haste, wolfed down my tacos (no savory the fire there), and popped up a couple of rows to introduce myself.
So, this message is partly for Mr. Cline should he happen to read this blog. Mr. Cline, I was sweating profusely when I met you because of the hot sauce and NOT because I was that nervous meeting you. Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest.
I was able to thank Mr. Cline profusely for his wonderful book, and he was very appreciative and grateful of my effusive praise. I even told him that I had been meaning to write a blog about his book (which I had), but I regrettably wasn’t able to give him any context for that comment. So, he probably thought that was rather strange. But the main message that I was able to get across is how deeply I appreciated his book. I let him know that he captured the experiences of my youth in his book and how happy that made me feel. Personally, it felt good for me to say that. The opportunity to express my gratitude toward Mr. Cline made the Rush concert an even more epic experience.
With his innovative approach and engaging storytelling, Mr. Cline tapped into this power of nostalgia to profoundly affect so many readers. While nostalgia has many benefits, we still need to be careful not to long for the “glory days” at the expense of the present. Harnessing the power of nostalgia, we want to ensure we are having experiences that create the stuff of future nostalgia. These are days we’ll remember if we work to make that happen. Celebrating the past AND the present enriches our lives.
I don’t know Mr. Cline personally, but my guess is that he has mastered the art of both celebrating the past and the present. From what I could tell, he was enjoying the Rush concert as much as I was! I can’t imagine what he must feel like to wake up every morning knowing that he created a work of art that touched millions of lives in such a positive way. With a movie version of Ready Player One on the way with Steven Spielberg at the helm, he appears to be on an exciting ride. With a nod to the 1986 Timbuk 3 song goes, his future’s so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. The takeaway message for all of us is to enjoy reminiscing about the past AND do things in the present AND plan things for the future that will create the experiences and memories that give our lives richness and meaning.