December Reading

In December I had to work up to and including the 23rd (very busy I was, too. It was dreadful). Afterwards I had lots of time for reading, but I also got some books read before Christmas.

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Poetry:

  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry
    I got almost to the half-way mark in this amazingly good anthology. It’s a big hardcover and I didn’t feel like lugging it to Bavaria, so I read some other poems while I was there (from December 10 to 31).
  • Janet E. Gardner et al. (ed.), Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition
    This anthology contains 200 poems and I didn’t quite manage to finish all of them while I was in Bavaria. They were a good selection and I posted a couple of poems during December that especially struck me. I’ll finish these poems next time I’m in Bavaria. A lot of them were more modern than most of the other poems I read this year. I think I would like to read an anthology of modern poetry sometime this year.

Non-Fiction:

  • James Boswell, The Life of Johnson (1791)
    I started this on Christmas and almost finished it by the end of the year (had 150 pages left and finished it in the first days of 2012). It’s huge, around 1000 pages with quite small print in my Penguin Classic edition. Between Christmas Eve and the New Year, I did almost nothing except read this book, eat cookies and take Curious Dog for his walks. I loved it. It’s very lively and makes both the writer (Boswell) and subject, Samuel Johnson, come alive. I will write a review.
  • Bella DePaulo, Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone
    This was a disappointment. A publication of a lot of blog posts, very repetitive and seemed superficial. This was the worst book I read all year. I won’t be writing a review. Luckily it was a very cheap Kindle version.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities
    My November and December final Dickens novels. Both were good but I preferred AToTC and I still plan to write reviews, although I’m rather behind with them.
  • Toni Morrison, Home and God Help the Child
    My final two Morrison novels. Good, as always, and also still waiting for their reviews. They were both short novels.
  • Ernest Cline, Ready Player One and Ready Player Two
    The first was a re-read, the second had just been published. I liked them both.
  • Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
    A very well-written Young Adult spy novel set in WWII. I had to read it for my book club and quite enjoyed it but found it too constructed. Everything fell into place like a completed puzzle, no open ends, no missing pieces. Everything was explained, there was no ambiguity (well, there was ambiguity, but it was too obvious). Too pat for me. Although, I probably would have liked it a lot as a teenager. I think it succeeds very well at what it set out to do but it didn’t do much for me, except that I learned that there were women pilots in WWII (not in the British Air Force itself, but in supporting positions). That was fascinating and new to me.

I managed to read more than half of the books I had planned to read by the end of 2020, as posted here. All the ones that I didn’t get to are still on my TBR-pile for 2021. One I have already read in January, but that will be part of my January Reading post.

I hope to get all the reviews from December done by the end of January. I should probably have made a goal that I shouldn’t start a new book before I’ve written a review of the one just finished (if I want to write a review).

Keep safe, world.

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline. An excellent sequel to Ready Player One. It picks up and develops characters and themes raised in RPI. This will be a mostly spoiler-free review, as RPII was just published and I don’t want to reveal any of the surprising plot twists.

The novel starts off rather slowly with Wade (Parzival) reporting on some astonishing technical advancements made by the company GSS now owned by him, Samantha (Art3mis), Aech, and Shoto. The new technology had been developed in secret by James Halliday, whose heir Wade has become, because of the quest he solved in RPI. The new technology makes the Oasis even more addictive and Wade and Sam have a falling-out over his use of it and because Wade, Aech and Shoto vote to market it. I rather liked this estrangement between Wade and Sam as I’d found their relationship not very believable in RPI. Wade spends a lot of time regretting the fact that his life has gone nowhere while his three friends have found worthwhile careers and/or fulfilling relationships. But soon a new quest arises, again left by James Halliday, and the novel picks up speed and becomes as thrilling a page-turner as the first installment.

The themes of the dystopian near future are again touched upon and at first it seems no different than before: people hide in the Oasis from their dismal non-virtual life. However, there’s an interesting twist at the end of the novel that brings hope for the planet while showing a good balance between virtual and non-virtual existence (I don’t want to be clearer, as that would be a spoiler). There’s also an important new theme about artificial intelligence with an interesting twist on how AIs could come to be (although I don’t know if the idea of the novel will ever be possible, but it’s certainly intriguing).

During the new quest, Wade at first is the only one of the four friends engaged in it, and he doesn’t make much headway. But he gets a hint from some new friends that helps him solve the first step. And, once the stakes are raised because the Oasis and its users are held hostage under a strict time limit (meaning, they will all die if the quest isn’t solved in time), the friends reconnect and work together to save everyone. It’s engrossing and has the plot twists and pop-culture trivia like the first novel. I especially like the part of the quest that takes part on a world based on the tales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Aech, Shoto and Art3mis (Samantha) each have a much larger role to play in RPII. They can shine with their pop-culture specialties – without them Parzival (Wade) would have had no chance to finish the quest successfully on time. They also helped in RPI, of course, but most of the ideas came from Parzival. In this case, they collaborate on an even level, which is heart-warming.

The development of the relationship between Parzival (Wade) and Art3mis (Samantha) is also nicely done. Each of them shows their stubborn side, but when things are dire, they work together, find that they still have feelings for each other, and both change so that their relationship becomes a lot more stable and believable by the end of the novel. As a Tolkien fan, I really enjoyed the quest the two of them had to complete in his world. It seemed very fitting.

So, I found Ready Player Two at least as good as Ready Player One. I’d been slightly worried that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it has a lot of new ideas mixed in with the exciting adventures in the Oasis that the reader is already familiar with from RPI. The beginning may be a little slow, but it soon picks up the pace. The ending is creative and very hopeful for the future of the entire dystopian world (not only for the four friends). And, I’m sure there’s enough material for a third novel. I, for one, would look forward to it (not that I’ve heard anything about a sequel).

Keep safe, world.

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline. A re-read, as I wanted to remind myself of the story before reading Ready Player Two which has just been published. I like Ready Player One because it’s an exciting page-turner and touches on some themes that I find interesting.

It is set in a dystopian near future. Dystopian and apocalyptic stories are a favourite genre of mine. Weird, really, considering that we might be heading for a difficult future with climate change and that we are currently living in a kind of dystopian present with the Corona pandemic. But then I also like reading murder mysteries and other crime novels without wanting to have anything like that in my life. I like reading about travel without needing to do a lot of travel myself. So many situations that are fun, or interesting, or thrilling to read about, but would be horrible in real life.

It is about virtual reality. I also like stories about virtual realities. It would be great to log into a virtual reality like the Oasis for work or for school and for games. Interacting with one’s colleagues in a virtual reality would be a lot more fun than online calls. And virtual school could be fantastic – I liked the parts in Ready Player One about the schools in the Oasis. Of course, the real question, which is sometimes touched on in the novel, but not grappled with in detail, is how to balance virtual life with non-virtual life. I don’t want to contrast ‘virtual’ with ‘real’, because the virtual life would also be real, but I wouldn’t want to neglect the non-virtual life on which we all depend. We can’t live without nature, food, the planet. In Ready Player One people seen to hide from their dystopian natural world in the artificial Oasis world which doesn’t solve any problems. Virtual reality in Ready Player One can be like an addiction, like smartphone addition only worse.

I like the thrilling plot. It’s the usual fight against evil, where evil has all the advantages but good prevails. A good traditional plot well executed. I enjoy all the trivia about the 80s (although I can’t remember them once I’ve finished the book). I was a teenager in the 80s and missed all this computer and gaming stuff. I know a few of the movies and have read a few of the books that are mentioned, but that’s about it. The book doesn’t even trigger any nostalgia in me, as it is just not the life I lived.

I like the characters, Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto (to call them by their Oasis names). I like their fight against the overwhelming numbers of Sixers who are their rivals in the search for the Easter egg (or the quest for the Holy Grail of the Oasis – even the hero’s name, Parzival, reminds one of the Grail myths). That they can only win by working together is a nice moral. Parzival, or Wade, is the point-of-view character and the one who is best realized. The others are not well developed, but the book seems to me to be more about the plot and the action and less about character development, so it’s OK.

I don’t like the romantic love between Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis. It’s fine that Wade falls in love with her, but after she breaks it off, he acts like a creepy stalker. Keeps trying to get her to change her mind in obnoxious ways in Oasis, hanging around her virtual home trying to get her to communicate with him again. And afterwards, at the end of the book, they easily pick up their romantic relationship again. I didn’t find that very believable. Still, it might be interesting to see how and if their relationship will continue in Ready Player Two.

So, Ready Player One is a fantastic, mostly light and fun read and I’m looking forward to Ready Player Two, which I going to start today.

Keep safe, world.