Every year, I say I’m going to read more, and this time I actually did. But I only read two books in 2011, so that’s not really saying much. The 2012 count is at five completed books and one that I gave up on fairly early. All were books I had never read before and most had a science fiction-y slant to them. Here they are, separated by month.
1. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline
Ernest Cline’s coming-of-age thriller “Ready Player One” is part dystopia, part technological utopia and part love-letter to popular culture from the late 70s to the new millenium — saving its most adoring gazes for the history and evolution of gaming in the 1970s and 80s. Set in 2045, the world is bleak place. Residents, however, have found escape in the OASIS — a virtual reality that works not unlike an MMORPG (massive, multiplayer online roleplaying game, if you didn’t already know), except it’s gone beyond quests and battles to become a place where users meet, play, work and live. Kind of like The Matrix, only less with the “farming your bodies for our robot batteries” thing.
The right to access the OASIS has been something everyone could afford to a varying degree, but when creator James Halliday dies, he leaves a challenge: The first person to solve a series of riddles and challenges to locate an easter egg hidden somewhere in OASIS gains control of the entire system and all of Halliday’s personal fortune. The story follows Wade Watts, a poor kid from the stacks, who’s racing against a corporation that owns virtually everything, wants OASIS and will do anything — online and off — to get it.
The book is chock full of pop culture — sometimes artfully weaved in but often clumsily inserted like the name-drop it is. But despite its weaknesses (and let’s be honest, its prologue is plagued with footnotes that thankfully are not a running theme), I loved nearly every word of it. And the story is solid, even without all the winks and nods to the world’s cadre of geeks and nerds. If you’re a fan of gaming, cult movies, science fiction, or even just nostalgic for a good dose of the 1980s, pick up a copy of “Ready Player One.”
2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
I don’t like saying I didn’t like this book, because King is one of those people who has a writing style that I generally really enjoy. Also, I love the premise of this enormous book about a man who travels from the present day to 1958 and after a few diversions (including a run-in with Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, if you’re a fan of “IT”) spends years preparing an attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination in 1963 — while also meeting the love of his life and changing a few other things here and there. But sometimes it feels tedious, and even longer than its not inconsiderable 950+ pages. And yet, it still felt rushed near the end. And when King stops just asking us to believe in magic portals hidden in a diner’s pantry and starts trying to explain the hows and whys and causes and effects of time travel, some of the story’s magic starts to fade, too. I don’t regret having read 11/22/63, but it’s likely not a book I will ever feel compelled to read again.
3. Stories I Only Tell My Friends” by Rob Lowe
It’s a bit uneven in places, but it was interesting reading about Rob Lowe’s childhood (which was not entirely what I expected), his rise through the ranks, stardom, fall and comeback and the wealth of people who came into his life at varying points. He wrote a lot about The Outsiders and The West Wing and his time at the Sheen house hanging out with Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise (who was apparently odd even back then). And either he has a great memory or just a really good handle on Martin Sheen’s voice, because there was one story he told about a masked man who jumped out of the bushes on Halloween and gave a little diatribe against egging houses, and about four words into it, I was all “Oh, yeah. That’s GOT to be Martin Sheen.” Overall, not a bad way to spend a few hours if you like Rob Lowe, The West Wing or The Outsiders.
4. Cell by Stephen King
It would be easy to say Cell is a book about cell phones turning people into zombies, but that would be fairly inaccurate. Cell phones do turn people into what initially seem kind of zombie-like, but as the novel (which is pretty short in general, but especially by Stephen King standards) progresses we see these “people” sort of evolve into something else and grow their ranks as a few human stragglers run, fight, and look for loved ones. I loved this book — it may be my favorite of 2012 — but fair warning: It has kind of an open ending, so if you’re expecting every last detail to be tied up in a neat little bow and will be frustrated at the lack thereof, you might want to skip it. Also, it can be kind of gory.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This is the one I couldn’t finish. I feel like it’s a story I would really love, but Vonnegut apparently just has a writing style I can’t get into.
5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
You can read the full review here, but in short I really enjoyed the story — particularly the creepy accuracy regarding today’s technology and how society relates to it — though there were a few stylistic elements that were hit-or-miss with me. But I was able to overlook them, because by the time I got to them I had already determined Ray Bradbury himself had an awesome voice from the forward and author’s notes that were included in my 40th anniversary edition. I got another Bradbury book for Christmas, so expect a review of that before the year’s out.