In 2005, as many of you will recall, one writer’s wildly popular story created a gigantic cultural rift, even while many readers strongly identified with its teenaged protagonist. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight had appeared on bookshelves everywhere and quickly gained mainstream attention for its depictions of fraught romantic relationships, and especially for turning horror icons like vampires and werewolves into romantic objects. The story strongly resonated with its target female demographic, and three sequels and a series of film adaptations followed, but this success nagged at people who took umbrage at the allegedly mediocre writing, overwrought love story, and sparkly monsters. Even while people endlessly mocked the divide between fans of Team Jacob and Team Edward, the true battleground was located between people who loved Twilight and those who had contempt for what many perceived as blatant indulgence in a cocktail of melodramatic romantic clichés.
Which brings us to 2011, where two more stories that struck an intense chord with readers’ fantasies—allowing many to picture themselves in the lead roles—hit our collective radar: E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. The former has been lambasted as literal pornography, while the latter is frequently labeled “nostalgia porn.” And yet they are also two of the most popular and widely-known books to come out in recent years, and both have strong fan bases despite all the criticism. That’s not so surprising when it comes to Fifty Shades, since the story started out as fan fiction based on Twilight—some cross-over between the fans and critics of Meyer’s books and those following James’ work is to be expected. But why Ready Player One? What did Cline do to get caught up in this very familiar looking crossfire between haters and rabid fans?