Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

             Fans of science fiction, video games and pop culture should add New York Times Bestseller “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline to their list of must-reads.  USA Today has referred to it as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” Although this may seem to be a strange comparison, nothing could be quite so accurate.

On planet Earth in 2044, real life is pretty dismal. Most of society, including teenager Wade Watts, spends its waking hours plugged into the OASIS, an immense & fully interactive virtual world. OASIS users can be anyone and do anything that they choose. Think of the OASIS as a giant role-playing game…except the main character is you. Users can explore countless planets, purchase real estate, slay monsters and even attend school (as Wade does).

 Wade's life changes when James Halliday, the enigmatic & reclusive creator of the OASIS, dies...leaving behind an enormous fortune and a mysterious contest. Halliday can best be described as a blend of real-life magnates Steve Jobs and Howard Hughes. In "Ready Player One", Halliday spent his life obsessing over 1980's pop culture, and has promised to award his entire estate to anyone who can solve the intricate riddles and puzzles he has installed inside the OASIS. We refer to such hidden references and messages as “Easter Eggs”, so in this case the grand prize is referred to as “Halliday’s Egg.” Anyone who is going to obtain The Egg needs to have a thorough understanding of the music, movies and (most importantly) the games of that time period. 

The search for “Halliday’s Egg” launches a new breed of cyber-adventurer, called “Egg Hunters” (or “Gunters”, for short.) Armed with his collection of "ancient" television programs, movies and albums, Wade is ready to meet this challenge head-on. But what happens when he encounters others who will stop at nothing in order to claim Halliday's legacy for themselves? Danger, excitement and possibly love await Wade...but he may need to reexamine his notion of reality in order to achieve his goals.

                You may already be familiar with author Ernest Cline if you have seen the 2009 comedy, Fanboys. Cline penned the screenplay, which centers on a group of obsessed Star Wars fans who conspire to infiltrate George Lucas’ “Skywalker Ranch” and obtain a copy of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace before it is released to the public. Cline also wrote a fan screenplay for an imaginary sequel to the 1984 cult classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. In his spare time, Cline purchased & drives a DeLorean (think of Back to the Future) and recently held a contest in which the winner also received a DeLorean of their very own.

                Recently, Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to “Ready Player One”, so fans have that to look forward to on the horizon. In the meantime, the Ocean City Free Public Library has copies of the book and audio book (which is narrated by nerd extraordinaire, Wil Wheaton).  If you're ready to embark on a epic adventure, stop by and check out a copy!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Book Profiles Women Runners Over 50, Including Locals

A book released this year by Carol Hansen Montgomery titled Tapping The Fountain of Youth: Profiles of Women Runners Over 50 includes women from Cape May County, Ocean City, Hamilton, and Philadelphia.

The book features photos, anecdotes, statistics and accomplishments of women runners from age 50 to 80 plus.

Susan Reich of Ocean City, NJ is one of the women profiled in the book. Starting at age 22 and still running at age 52, she's a 30 year veteran who, according to the book, was the recent overall female winner of Ocean City's half marathon. She started training after joining the Brigantine Beach Patrol.

Montgomery quotes Reich as saying, "As long as I'm having fun and staying healthy I'll keep running. I missed all aspects of this summer when I was injured. I'm addicted. I think part of the reason I keep improving is that I did not start running seriously until later in life. I had much room for improvement."

Other locals profiled in the book include Carole O. Donohue of Cape May Court House, NJ, age 51, who runs 40 to 60 miles a week while training for a marathon, Suzanne Gibson, age 60, of Egg Harbor Township, NJ whose best race was the Philadelphia Marathon at age 52, Sue Baker of Ocean City, NJ, who at age 65 runs 12 to 15 miles per week, Carole L. Lelli of Ocean City, NJ, who at age 68 runs 20 to 25 miles per week and who completed her best race at age 48 in the New York City Marathon, and Rita Alles of Hamilton, NJ, who at age 74 runs 10 to 12 miles per week and does spinning two days per week.

All of the women profiled in this book are sure to provide some inspiration to not only runners, but anyone looking to dedicate themselves to any pursuit. Their accomplishments and their lasting health show the personal benefits that are possible from consistent dedication.

Tapping the Fountain of Youth: Profiles of Women Runners Over 50 is in our collection at the Ocean City Public Library. The 196-page book was published in August of 2012.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

On James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and Banned Books Week

I finished James Joyce's Ulysses last night, after months of reading (breaks for other books included). After putting it down, I opened my laptop and realized I'd just finished one of the most famous banned books of the 20th century during Banned Books week. It was a coincidence, but it still prompted me to do some research about the history of the book.

Ulysses was published in 1922, but it wasn't until 1933 that U.S. courts lifted a ban on the book, according to an archived article from the December 7, 1933 edition of The New York Times. The article states that the book was banned by customs censors, "on the ground that it might cause American readers to harbor 'impure and lustful thoughts.'"

By today's standards, although there are some memorably racy scenes in Ulysses, the book is relatively tame compared to contemporary pop culture—an average episode of Law and Order or Dexter includes more graphic violence and sexual content (in HD, of course) than any scene from Joyce's work.

The New York Times article summarizes Federal Judge John M. Woolsey's decision to lift the ban, quoting him as saying, "If one does not wish to associate with folks as Joyce describes, that is one's own choice."

Interestingly, this article was written two days after the repeal of Prohibition, another ruling that champions individual liberty.

The banning of Ulysses, like Prohibition's ban on alcohol, did not stop many Americans from procuring and partaking in the work. The James Joyce Centre describes not only the confiscation of the book upon its publication, but also adds that some Americans simply bought copies while in Paris, then smuggled them home. Also similar to Prohibition, the James Joyce Centre argues that the ban itself "piqued people's interest in the book, creating still more demand for 'illicit' copies of the book."

Despite its initial banning, the legacy of Ulysses in America is one of reverence. Random House's Modern Library lists it as the best novel of all time, and critics have argued over its merits for decades. 

And, of course, it's on our shelves here at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Biography About David Foster Wallace Sheds Light on Author's Life

For fans of author David Foster Wallace, his death in 2008 came as a surprise. Knowing that he isn't around to create characters like Hal, Mario and Avril Incandenza, Don Gately, and Joelle Van Dyne and knowing that he will never pen another novel makes The New Yorker writer D.T. Max's biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, all the more valuable, as it may one of the last glimpses we have into Wallace's brilliant mind.

In the book, Max provides exhaustively detailed accounts of Wallace's precocious childhood, his desire to please his grammar instructor mother, his struggles with mental health, alcohol and drugs, his successes in his time as a student in high school and at Amherst, and his struggles as a writer.

The biography depicts Wallace as a man who was prodigious, which led to an early over confidence, but which as he aged and struggled through rehabilitation programs changed to what seemed a genuine humility. He began to change his views about literature, shedding some of the rebellious style exhibited in his first novel, The Broom of the System, which was written as his senior thesis as an undergraduate and published when he was 23.

His humanity, sense of humor, compassion, and ultimate humility is most prevalent in his final two novels, Infinite Jest (his magnum opus, regarded by many as a masterpiece of contemporary literature) and The Pale King (his posthumous publication, unfinished when he died and pieced together from the manuscript pages and notes he left behind). In both of these works, there is an underlying spirit and sense of morality that is not present in The Broom of The System or in his first short story collection, Girl With Curious Hair.

Wallace's progression as both a writer and man is exhibited in Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, offering glimpses into what changed him, how he changed the literary world, and how he was viewed by contemporaries, by his students, and, most tragically, by himself. In 2008, at the age of 46, Wallace hanged himself in his California home.

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story was released on Aug. 30, 2012 and, drawing from interviews with family, friends, students, colleagues and acquaintances as well as from Wallace's papers, which are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas, it provides perhaps the most extensive account of Wallace's life to date.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Junot Diaz, NJ Writer, Receives 'Genius Grant'

It was announced yesterday that New Jersey's Junot Diaz has been awarded a MacArthur "Genius Grant." Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic but raised in New Jersey, is a Rutgers University graduate and a Pulitzer Prize winning author. In 2007, his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won him the award.

The MacArthur grant is a $500,000 award.

I have read two of Diaz's books. The first, Drown, is a collection of short stories that was released in 1996. The second, Oscar Wao, was his first novel. His newest book, This is How You Lose Her, was released in September of this year and is another collection of short stories (it has so far received much critical acclaim as well as a place on The New York Times bestseller list).

In Drown one can engage with many of the same characters from his later works, including the narrator of Oscar Wao, Yunior, a character that recurs throughout Diaz's works. His style in Drown is similar to that of Oscar Wao, including a mixture of Spanish and English as well as slang, but, not surprisingly, his earliest work is not as polished or mature as Oscar Wao, which was released more than a decade after his first collection.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the life story of Oscar Wao, a nerdy, overweight Dominican boy who grows up in New Jersey and (not surprisingly) attends Rutgers University. Wao is a science fiction writer, and while in college shares a dorm room with Yunior, who is in love with Wao's sister and who has never had a hard time with women (this is exhibited throughout Oscar Wao and Drown).

What Wao wants more than anything, though, is to fall in love, and Yunior decides to help him lose weight and work on his skill at talking to girls.

Most of Diaz's stories center on some romantic or sexual theme. His work is, for the most part, an exploration of the many forms of love and the many forms of longing he sees in the world. Because of the varied nature of the subject he explores, the writing can at times be gritty, magical, epic, or humorous. Most of all, his books are simultaneously smart yet engaging and emotionally charged.

Oscar Wao includes chapters from the perspectives of Wao's mother and sister, both of whom have their own romantic and familial struggles, which are exhibited throughout the book. Wao, like many of the characters in Drown, grew up without a father in his Paterson, New Jersey household. The story takes us from male to female perspective, from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey and back, and through time from the present day to the reign of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo early in the 20th century. All of this is sewn together seamlessly through the superior storytelling skills of Diaz.

Here at the Ocean City Public Library, we currently hold copies of all three of Diaz's books. For more information, call the reference desk at (609)399-2434.