By Beverly Makhani, Undergraduate Education

PULLMAN, Wash. – Two award-winning books have been selected for the 2017-18 common readings for thousands of students in first-year courses at Washington State University.

Aligned with the program’s two-year theme, “frontiers of technology, health and society,” the books are “Ready Player One,” for Pullman, Tri-Cities, Spokane, Everett and the Global Campus, and “Spare Parts,” for WSU Vancouver. One has been made into a movie and the other is expected to be released by director Steven Spielberg in spring 2018.

WSU Vancouver Vice Chancellor Renny Christopher chose a different book because it provides a good transition from the campus’s 2016-17 book, “Innovation Nation.” Both explore the topic of immigration.

Both books were among three finalists recommended to Daniel J. Bernardo, WSU provost, by the WSU-wide Common Reading Selection Committee. Its 14 members read and evaluated 34 books.

“Both books will allow our campuses to highlight cutting-edge innovations and applications of technology in a variety of fields,” he said, “and to explore larger issues about the ethical dilemmas and changing sense of identity that arise in an increasingly digital world.”

“Both books also highlight the importance of collaboration among diverse members of teams and the building of personal skill sets,” Christopher said.

‘Ready Player One,’ by Ernest Cline (2011)

The action in this book transfers characters between the real world and the technological cloud. In year 2044, environmental fallout from global warming has led to social woes and economic miseries. People seek escape from reality in MMORPGs – massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

Teenager Wade Watts has devoted his life to the virtual reality utopia named OASIS, a simulation game created by a man obsessed with 1980s pop culture. He has hidden puzzles in the game with the promise of unimaginable fortune and power to the one who deciphers them. When Watts finds a clue, will he become famous – or become the target of have-nots?

“Among the most compelling reasons for my selection of “Ready Player One” are that it has been used successfully (as a common reading book) at several peer institutions, it clearly appeals to a young audience and it is the first choice of the majority of the committee,” Bernardo wrote to Susan Poch, assistant vice provost and committee chair.

She said one consideration for the committee is the availability of the author to visit campus in person as part of year-long programming around the selected book. She confirmed that author Ernest Cline is scheduled to visit Pullman in August. He also wrote the script for the 2009 cult film “Fanboys” and published a second book, “Armada,” in 2015.

“Using “Ready Player One” now is timely,” added Bernardo, since the film has been in production in the U.S. and U.K. since July 2016 and is set for a March 2018 release – mid-spring semester for WSU students.

‘Spare Parts’ by Joshua Davis (2014)

This book, which was made into a movie directed by Sean McNamara in 2015, evolved from a Wired magazine article, “La Vida Robot,” which presents the true story of four Latino high-school students in Phoenix who formed a robotics club.

“With no experience, $800, used car parts and a dream,” said the IMDb film website, the men, with help from inspiring science teachers, created an underwater robot built from such things as PVC pipes, deconstructed motor parts, and a waterproof briefcase. They competed in 2004 at a national contest against high school and college teams, including MIT robotics champions backed by a grant from ExxonMobil.

“Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream” is author Davis’ third book. He will visit the WSU Vancouver campus on Oct. 19. He has been a contributing editor at Wired since 2003, co-founded Epic magazine and has written for The New Yorker, GQ and Outside, among other publications.

Common reading as a systemwide shared initiative

The WSU Common Reading Program began in 2006-07 in Pullman, but the campuses began working together more purposefully starting in 2016-17 to have increased collaboration and cohesion, said Karen Weathermon, common reading co-director. (See (

WSU student-learning outcomes associated with common readings are: Create a common point for new students to enter intellectual conversation; introduce students to the diversity of ideas and the intellectual life of a research university; and illustrate how a complex issue can be explored from a variety of perspectives.

Common readings provide students, faculty and staff with shared text around which they can create academic discussions, learning opportunities and special programming. Frequent guest lectures allow top WSU researchers and others to share their knowledge about topics raised in the year’s book. Read more at (


News media contacts:
Susan Poch, WSU common reading, 509-335-6037,
Karen Weathermon, WSU common reading, 509-335-5488,
Suzanne Smith, WSU Vancouver common reading, 360-546-9714,