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Common Reading program brings “Ready Player One” author to WSU

Steven Spielberg, from left, Ernest Cline, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, T.J. Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, and Zak Penn attend the Warner Bros. “Ready Player One” panel on day three of Comic-Con International on July 22 in San Diego. (Richard Shotwell / Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Steven Spielberg, from left, Ernest Cline, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, T.J. Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, and Zak Penn attend the Warner Bros. “Ready Player One” panel on day three of Comic-Con International on July 22 in San Diego. (Richard Shotwell / Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

In Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” the year is 2044 and widespread social and economic issues run rampant due to a worldwide energy crisis.

To breakaway from the global decline, people turn to a virtual reality simulator called OASIS, both an online role-playing game and a virtual society.

Before his death, OASIS creator James Halliday announces that he has left an Easter egg inside the virtual society. The first person to find the Easter egg would inherit the company and his entire fortune.

Teenager Wade Watts, a “gunter,” or egg hunter, who goes by Parzival in OASIS, has dedicated his life to finding Halliday’s treasure, studying the creator’s journal, “Anorak’s Almanac,” for clues.

Almost by accident, Watts stumbles onto the location of the first of three keys pointing to the treasure, setting him off on a complex and dangerous journey to find the other keys.

Students at Washington State University will soon be as enthralled with OASIS as Watts as the book has been selected as the Common Reading book for students in first-year classes on five WSU campuses.

Cline will speak at the Common Reading Invited Lecture on Monday at Beasley Coliseum.

“Ready Player One” was chosen by the Common Reading selection committee, a group of about 15 people that includes faculty and staff members, residence life and orientation representatives, students and representatives from WSU’s sister campuses.

The group accepted nominations and narrowed them down to find the books that best fit the biennium theme, “Frontiers in Technology, Health and Science,” and could engage with faculty and student research and other happenings within WSU.

After the committee narrowed the nominations down to the top three, Provost Daniel J. Bernardo selected “Ready Player One,” which has been adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg.

“It was something that we felt that our first-year students would really resonate with partly because of the video game culture but partly because the protagonist is 18 or 19 years old and seemed like he would be someone that our students could relate to,” said Susan Poch, assistant vice provost in undergraduate education, who is also the Common Reading co-director and chairwoman of the book selection committee. “The idea that it has many, many themes that connect to different aspects of the university and faculty expertise.”

As part of the Common Reading program, there will be lectures throughout the year from faculty members, including a lecture about how science-fiction writing, once a feminine profession, is now more masculine.

Professors will also incorporate the book into first-year classes.

Poch said students familiar with the book are excited that it was selected and those unfamiliar are intrigued.

The Common Reading program was designed to give first-year students a way to engage in the WSU community, something Poch said isn’t always available.

“Oftentimes first-year students come to a university and they know about their classes and they think they want a particular major, but their opportunity to experience and understand so many more aspects of the university hasn’t always been there,” she said. “That’s one of the really key features of our Common Reading program is we are so connected into the university, the research we do, the classes that are here, the things faculty and staff are interested in. Those are things that we can offer our first-year students that they typically don’t get anywhere else.”