Saturday, April 1, 2017

BOOK TALK: ONE HUNDRED PAGES FOR READY PLAYER ONE

It's not often that I've found myself in a place where I just couldn't bring myself to finish a book. Normally, I can trudge on and sometimes do enjoy the way things turn out, but such was not the case with READY PLAYER ONE. This is a book that is widely beloved and I have heard high praise about from a lot of people I know well and respect. So you can imagine my surprise, when I dove in at last to this book and found that I actually just didn't like it at all. In fact, I made it a little further than one hundred pages before calling it quits and just getting to that point took me a while even with skimming. Now, since I did not finish, I am not going to write a formal review, nor will I give this a rating since I'm not sure how ethical that is really. Instead, I'll just share my admittedly unpopular thoughts on why this book vexed me so much and why I decided to stop reading it.

1. Alls The Pop Cultures

Don't get me wrong, I love a pop culture reference as much as the next person. They can express a connection you're probably already making in your head or perhaps catch  you off guard. But this is only when they are well done and well placed, not to mention, carefully selected. My fundamental problem with READY PLAYER ONE is that it's basically "Pop Culture Reference: The Novel: 80's Edition." It's too much and honestly, a few of the "references" are so extravagant, that I'm am genuinely shocked that this novel never came under fire for copyright infringement. It's not sampling from things like Grim's Fairy Tales or other public domain works, these are fairly recent pieces of media and they are pretty extensively borrowed from, especially on the side of the gaming world. To be honest, this seemed to be all the novel really had to offer me. It's like an extended sharing of one's love for different nerdy things and I've frankly had more interesting nerd-talks with friends both in person and online.

2. You Can Trust Me As a Reader

I may be a nerd, but I'm not socially inept. When a character is described as having a particular facial expression, I don't then a need a follow-up sentence to tell me how they're feeling. I also don't need to be reminded about the same things over and over again. This is by far the most repetitive and distrustful writing I have ever come across and in the one hundred something pages I read, there was no sign of this improving. The classic "show don't tell" rule is something that every writing class ever will teach young writers. It's also something that's fairly difficult to overcome, but as a reader, I guess I just find it personally offensive to have this one fundamental principal so flagrantly disobeyed. Does this kind of thing happen from time to time in other works of popular fiction? Yes, of course it does, as someone who's tried his hand at writing, I do appreciate the tendency to want to tell rather than show, but this is a professionally published piece of fiction and it's very distracting to me that writing basics are so carelessly ignored here.

3. Why?
At the end of the day we read fiction to feel something, right? We want to be invested in the characters, engrossed in the story, and captivated by the world. In the case of this book, I simply didn't care about anything or anyone. I've played enough MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) where the idea of a virtual reality world wasn't all that novel to me and I was bummed that nothing particularly interesting was done with this setting aside from having the real-world public school system live inside of it. When I passed one hundred pages, I just didn't have a reason "why" I would want to continue.


Parting Thoughts
So ultimately I'm setting this down. Now, if you've made it to this part of the post, you might be fuming over how many criticisms I have for this story and/or wondering why I bothered to write all of this. While this probably seems like an angry rant, it actually isn't for the most part. I do find myself disappointed that this book has received so much praise as I think there are just a lot of books out there with better writing and a lot more intrigue. I also share my thoughts/opinions because I've learned some things about myself as a reader. Namely, I think the one hundred page rule is garbage (if you haven't heard of this it's just a little piece of advice book lovers, especially teachers, will sometimes give that says to give a book 100 pages and put it down if it's still not gripping you). I knew right away that I would hate this book and I should never have spent as much time struggling through it as I did.

I am happy that many have made a good connection with this book, it's certainly always nice to see that happen even when I don't like it much myself. I also need to do a better job at understanding that different books will appeal to different people for different reasons. Most of the time, books I end up liking are ones that hook me right away. Books I don't love, tend to be a struggle from beginning to end. I think I've decided that hooking your readers is part of the artistry of writing, so from here on in, if I'm not feeling a story after the opening bit, then I'm probably going to move onto one of the many books that I'm still dying to get to. Reading should never feel like a chore and I think I sometimes make it that way for myself. So from here on in, no more bearing with things for the first hundred pages or so, I'll either be all in or all out.

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