Guest Post by Stephanie Truax
For this battle we have two books that deal heavily with themes of isolation and imagination. In The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, Pi Patel is a young shipwreck survivor populating a barren seascape with his imagination. In Ready Player One, by Austin author Ernest Cline, Wade Watts is a teenager living in a dystopic near future USA. He fills his time in the OASIS a virtual reality world whose creator has just died, leaving behind a contest for his estate. Before starting my part of the battle of the books reading, there was no obvious front runner for me. I had read Life of Pi before, right when it came out, but had forgotten almost everything about it in the intervening 15 years. Ready Player One has been enthusiastically recommended to me by many trusted friends over the years. I was excited to read or reread both of them in the context of choosing a winner. So excited, in fact, that I almost doomed one of them from the start.
Let me start with Life of Pi, I remember enjoying it as a teenager. Magical realism was one of my favorite genres, I was an avid swimmer, and I was fascinated by philosophy. A boy, on a raft in the middle of the Pacific, with a trained tiger, pondering the meaning of life was right up my ally. Pi is a 16 year old boy raised by a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India. As his family is migrating to Canada with more than a few zoo animals to sell, their tanker capsizes and Pi is the sole (human) survivor. As an adult I read Life of Pi with some nostalgia, the book is engaging and a quick read. The narrator is charming, and his survival methods are interesting if implausible (although apparently drawn from real life! Who knew!). As for the tiger, Richard Parker, I would not like to be stuck on a lifeboat with him, but he keeps things interesting.
In my reread I couldn’t decide if the book had lost its luster because I already knew what was coming, or if it just didn’t hold its appeal as an adult. I was questioning myself. Was it just me or was all the symbolism and allegory a little heavy handed? Were we still stuck in the ocean? I kind of wanted Richard Parker to go ahead and eat everybody, let’s just get on with it! But there is a lot of fun here too, it’s worth a read if you’re looking for something quick and engaging. All in all, I’m glad I reread this book. It got a lot of hype when it came out (it won a Booker!) and again when it was adapted into a movie a few years ago. I think its reputation may have suffered from overexposure, but if you like thinking about the meaning of life, exploring religion, and extreme coming of age tales this might be a book for you. I suppose it’s a bit dystopian in its own right- civilization might as well cease to exist if you’re along on the water for almost a year.
As for Ready Player One, I very nearly doomed this book to a certain loss by getting overly anxious to read it and deciding to listen to the audiobook while waiting for my eBook hold to become available. I would love to be an audiobook listener, but the fact it that I’m much too visual to get much enjoyment out of them. Plus, I love the complete imaginative control of reading text. Luckily for me, and the fate of this book, my hold came in quickly (I love Overdrive!) and I could switch between formats. Ready Player One is a lot of fun to read. With heavy emphasis on 80’s nostalgia and videogame culture, it doesn’t hit many of my interests. I also tend to avoid dystopic fiction altogether, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Wade Watts lives on a post energy crisis earth wracked by poverty and desperation. To escape their surroundings, most people have devoted almost all their time to the virtual world, OASIS. This included protagonist, and underdog extraordinaire, Wade Watts. As Wade, or Parzival as he is known in the OASIS, competes to win the competition for the estate and control of the OASIS, we follow him in a journey of nostalgia and geeky obsessions. Despite my initial reluctance to give into the plot, I quickly found myself unable to put the book down, bouncing between audio and text as surroundings allowed.
So who won this round? I would heartily recommend either novel to someone looking for quick and captivating reads. Despite their disparate plots, both novels center on questions of boyhood, identity and lost civilizations. Both rely heavily on the world of imagination and both are stories of survival in the face seemingly insurmountable challenges. However, since every challenge needs a winner, this one goes to Ready Player One. As much an underdog in this book battle as he is in the fight for the OASIS, Wade Watts comes out on top. Ready Player One was just too much fun to leave behind. Plus I’m a sucker for secrets, puzzles and big reveals. There is a lot to love in both books, and you certainly wouldn’t do wrong to read either one of them, but the winner is hands down Ready Player One.