A Message from Author Ernest Cline

The novel Ready Player One from debut author Ernest Cline has already won the 2012 Alex Award and has just recently been selected for this year’s common reading at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In this letter to educators, Cline discusses his own personal  identification with the story behind the book and why Ready Player One has managed to resonate so well with the college-aged audience in particular:

The reception my novel Ready Player One has received has been, quite simply, beyond any debut author’s wildest dreams. Much to my amazement, the book spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, showed up on several Best of 2011 lists, and is even in development as a big-budget movie with Warner Bros.

But the facet of Ready Player One’s success I’ve found the most surprising—and gratifying—is how much younger readers love the book.  More precisely, they seem to be enjoying it not just as a big dumb adventure story.  They’re actually thinking about the chewier issues I was thinking about as I wrote it.

You see, Ready Player One is in part a love letter to the books, video games, movies, TV shows, and music of my childhood.  Although I knew these artifacts would resonate with readers of my generation, I was never sure how today’s students (with no memory of the Big Hair Decade) would respond to them, or if they would respond to them at all.

But since last August, I’ve found dozens of wonderful messages in my inbox from teenage readers who tell me Ready Player One is their new favorite book. I’ve been equally thrilled to hear that Ready Player One is a 2012 Alex Award winner, and that it’s been selected as the common read for this year’s incoming freshman class at the University of Massachusetts.

For some of the younger readers I’ve heard from, the 80s pop culture in the book seems to work a lot like the references to ancient mythology in an Indiana Jones movie—you don’t have to be familiar with them to enjoy the quest. But better still, many of them read the book with a web browser open, looking up the references as they go. And it seems that for every teen who gets excited about the Atari 2600 or sticks Ladyhawke in her Netflix queue as a result, there’s another who comes across my loving references to authors like Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K. Dick and gets inspired to pick up a classic and, you know,  actually read it.

I have a confession to make here: while I never thought it would actually happen, I did always secretly hope that younger readers would get Ready Player One. I wrote it as the kind of classic good-vs-evil, underdog-triumphs-over-all adventure story that I loved reading as a teen. And—also in emulation of my favorite books—I tried to make it touch on some more serious themes too.  In short, I tried to write the kind of book I wish I’d been assigned back when I was wearing pegged acid-washed jeans—a book that picks you up and grabs you with spaceships or wizards, with great action or an amazing love story, but sneakily manages to leave you with something more meaningful to chew on as well.

Ready Player One takes place in a near future where all-too-plausible social horrors like poverty, disease, and energy crises have run rampant, and I think—or hope—there’s something thought-provoking about seeing our futures portrayed that way.  Its hero is a loner who’s pretty much given up on the ugliness he sees in the real world and taken refuge in a virtual one—but by the end of the book, he learns that escapism isn’t the panacea he thinks it is, which is a lesson I figured out the hard way growing up.  And at the very center of the story is the role technology plays in our modern lives and how it shapes modern identity.  I think that subject in particular really resonates with readers who, in the course of growing up themselves, are finding their own identities increasingly defined by the virtual worlds of Facebook, Twitter, and the web.

If I had a time-traveling DeLorean, the first thing I’d do with it is head back to 1986 Ohio and give a copy of Ready Player Oneto my own teenage self, because the truth is, I really wrote it for him.  Sadly, the flux capacitor on my DeLorean isn’t operational, so the closest I can come to fulfilling that dream is asking you to consider the book as common reading for incoming freshman.

The reception my novel Ready Player One has received has been, quite simply, beyond any debut author’s wildest dreams. Much to my amazement, the book spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, showed up on several Best of 2011 lists, and is even in development as a big-budget movie with Warner Bros.

But the facet of Ready Player One’s success I’ve found the most surprising—and gratifying—is how much younger readers love the book.  More precisely, they seem to be enjoying it not just as a big dumb adventure story.  They’re actually thinking about the chewier issues I was thinking about as I wrote it.

You see, Ready Player One is in part a love letter to the books, video games, movies, TV shows, and music of my childhood.  Although I knew these artifacts would resonate with readers of my generation, I was never sure how today’s students (with no memory of the Big Hair Decade) would respond to them, or if they would respond to them at all.

But since last August, I’ve found dozens of wonderful messages in my inbox from teenage readers who tell me Ready Player One is their new favorite book. I’ve been equally thrilled to hear that Ready Player One is a 2012 Alex Award winner, and that it’s been selected as the common read for this year’s incoming freshman class at the University of Massachusetts.

For some of the younger readers I’ve heard from, the 80s pop culture in the book seems to work a lot like the references to ancient mythology in an Indiana Jones movie—you don’t have to be familiar with them to enjoy the quest. But better still, many of them read the book with a web browser open, looking up the references as they go. And it seems that for every teen who gets excited about the Atari 2600 or sticks Ladyhawke in her Netflix queue as a result, there’s another who comes across my loving references to authors like Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K. Dick and gets inspired to pick up a classic and, you know,  actually read it.

I have a confession to make here: while I never thought it would actually happen, I did always secretly hope that younger readers would get Ready Player One. I wrote it as the kind of classic good-vs-evil, underdog-triumphs-over-all adventure story that I loved reading as a teen. And—also in emulation of my favorite books—I tried to make it touch on some more serious themes too.  In short, I tried to write the kind of book I wish I’d been assigned back when I was wearing pegged acid-washed jeans—a book that picks you up and grabs you with spaceships or wizards, with great action or an amazing love story, but sneakily manages to leave you with something more meaningful to chew on as well.

Ready Player One takes place in a near future where all-too-plausible social horrors like poverty, disease, and energy crises have run rampant, and I think—or hope—there’s something thought-provoking about seeing our futures portrayed that way.  Its hero is a loner who’s pretty much given up on the ugliness he sees in the real world and taken refuge in a virtual one—but by the end of the book, he learns that escapism isn’t the panacea he thinks it is, which is a lesson I figured out the hard way growing up.  And at the very center of the story is the role technology plays in our modern lives and how it shapes modern identity.  I think that subject in particular really resonates with readers who, in the course of growing up themselves, are finding their own identities increasingly defined by the virtual worlds of Facebook, Twitter, and the web.

If I had a time-traveling DeLorean, the first thing I’d do with it is head back to 1986 Ohio and give a copy of Ready Player One to my own teenage self, because the truth is, I really wrote it for him.  Sadly, the flux capacitor on my DeLorean isn’t operational, so the closest I can come to fulfilling that dream is asking you to consider the book as common reading for incoming freshman.

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