By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 14, 2021
I read to be moved, in every sense of the word, to go to places I haven't been, and to glimpse worlds I otherwise couldn't see, including the worlds deep within myself.
Bestselling author John Green comes out with a new book next week and it's a bit of a departure from the dramatic YA romances he is known for. The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of personal essays adapted from his critically acclaimed podcast, which is focused on human activity that has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. One reviewer describes the book as "observations that double as exercises in memoiristic empathy." Here we take a look at the life experiences that have shaped Green and his work.
Your now is not your forever.
Moving around a lot as he was growing up, Green often struggled socially, an experience shared by many of his protagonists. He has talked publicly about the dehumanizing effects of being bullied as a teenager in school. His award-winning first novel, Looking for Alaska, was inspired by his transformative experiences after leaving public school to attend the Indian Springs School in Alabama. The coming-of-age story, which has been adapted as an 8-episode limited series on Hulu, touches on themes of meaning, grief, hope, and relationships.
I try to live life so that I can live with myself.
Green graduated from Kenyon College in 2000 with a double major in English and religious studies. He initially thought he would become an Episcopal priest and, after enrolling in divinity school, he spent five months working as a student chaplain in a children's hospital. The experience of working with children who were battling life-threatening illnesses inspired him to become a writer instead and, later in 2012, to write The Fault in Our Stars, which catapulted him to #1 Bestseller status. It is the story of two teenage cancer patients who fall in love. The book was made into a 2014 film starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.
I was such a nerd, I thought nerds were cool.
John Green has a strong commitment to education and often refers to himself as a nerd. He and his brother (and vlog partner) Hank coined the term Nerdfighters, defined as "someone who fights for nerds and nerd culture." Beginning in 2007, the Green brothers began a video blog project called Brotherhood 2.0 or vlogbrothers in which they exchange video messages with each other (and the world) via YouTube. In 2012, they started Crash Course, another YouTube project aimed at educating high school students. Green has said that he is working to create the community and culture that he wishes he had growing up.
It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn't the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.
John Green has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and has described his experience of living with the condition this way: "...it starts out with one little thought and then slowly that becomes the only thought that you're able to have..." This is a theme he explores in his 2017 novel Turtles All The Way Down. The story is about sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a high school student with OCD, who is simultaneously grieving the loss of her own father while trying to track down a fugitive billionaire who also happens to be a neighbor's father. A film adaptation is in development.
Here's to celebrating light where we find it. And making light where we don't.
From humanitarian efforts like his Project for Awesome annual fundraiser (aimed at "decreasing world suck") to the creation of VidCon (an annual conference for the online video community), Green is clearly someone who takes joy in his work. Along with The Anthropocene Reviewed, he has a podcast called Dear Hank & John in which the brothers, taking a mainly humorous tone, read a series of questions submitted by listeners and offer their advice. His playful side is evident in both his lively vlogging and his singular storytelling. (For example, in all of his books, starting with his second, An Abundance of Katherines, he includes the word "deadpan" exactly once as an easter egg.)
His thoughtful and multifaceted approach to life and work is truly inspirational. And if you haven't enjoyed any of his bestselling novels yet, you may want to consider this boxed set of four of his top titles, because one just won't be enough!
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