John Green and the power of reading generously

John Green’s the sort of guy you expect to be profound.

When my boyfriend and I went to see him at the National Book Festival last Saturday, I knew we’d stumbled into something. At 20 minutes to his scheduled speaking time, the giant tent we were all sweating under was rapidly filling. We couldn’t get any closer than the hinterlands to the right of the stage, but that was all right; there was palpable energy before Green, a popular young adult author, took the stage. I was just glad we’d made it.

Spencer laughed, looking around at the crowd of female teens and 20- to 60-somethings alike. When Green appeared, the tent exploded in cheers and screams — and I turned to grin at my boyfriend. I’d told him little about Green beforehand; just that he was the one author I absolutely had to see this year. “I forgot to mention he’s good-looking,” I added.

In person, Green — the author of books like Looking For Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines — is as effortlessly funny, cool and nerdy chic as you’d imagine. He spoke about writing, life and love — all topics the audience savored. One of his best moments came as an audience member asked him about a quote from one of his works: “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” Green explained he couldn’t take credit for it . . . that his now-wife was the mastermind behind that philosophical gem.

Definitely endeared him to me.

Talking about the gifts readers and writers exchange, Green joked, “You give me two gifts. One is money,” he laughed, “and my family appreciates that.” And the other? The gift of our generous reading. That’s what struck me most about that morning — this idea of approaching a work with an open mind. That’s what he most hoped his readers would bring to the table: this generous spirit, especially with The Fault In Our Stars; the willingness to give a book a chance.

Ignoring the hype. Ignoring negative reviews. Coming into a novel with a desire to take it for what it is — and to enjoy it simply on its own merits. If we’re biased from the start, we open a new book and think, “‘I’m going to hate this,’” said Green. “And when we’re finished, we say, ‘Well, I did it! I hated it.’”

I’m guilty of this. After a book generates buzz, either positive or negative, I’ll occasionally pick it up to see what the fuss is all about. I expect it will be terrible and, surprise! It’s terrible. I’ve wasted my time, annoyed myself and often warn others away from it.

But other times? I surprise myself. I pick up something outside the realm of my “traditional” reading and am shocked to find . . . I like it. Like graphic novels. I recently guest-posted at The Estella Society about this very topic: trying something for the first time with the expectation I’ll hate it, and then shocking myself. Having to admit I actually loved it. That’s sort of how I was with audio books, too — hesitant or even disdainful, but now a complete convert.

And I want to be more generous with my reading. I often find myself dissolving so completely in my book snobbery that I’m not capable of expanding into anything new, and I don’t like that about myself — especially when I get on my high horse with others. How often have I recommended Green’s books themselves, especially to those who think they’re “too old” for young adult fiction?

So that’s my goal for the rest of 2012 — and beyond: reading generously. Giving things a chance. Getting out of my little bookish hole to expand, expand! Trying something new without expecting to hate it. That might mean I’ll be selecting books outside my “normal” scope of literary of women’s fiction, but that will make it all the sweeter.

Because as we speak, I’m halfway through three books: The Worst Hard Time (non-fiction about the Great American Dust Bowl); Paper Towns (John Green, young adult!); and The Paris Wife, my current audio, which is historical fiction based on Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage.

See, I’m diversifying. I can feel it!

12 thoughts on “John Green and the power of reading generously

  1. I love this post! I’ve had the chance to see Green speak a couple times now (he lives in my hometown, so there have been a few chances) and he is always, always wonderful. You’re so lucky you got to see him in DC! Also, I’ve read The Worst Hard Time, Paper Towns and The Paris Wife and I love that you’re picking really diverse books to read. I always find that it makes my brain hum in different ways to have all those different elements jumbled in there at once.


  2. That quote’s excellent! The whole thing of not liking a book when you’ve already decided you won’t like it is rather weird, and generally true. We convince ourselves of things far too much, and there’s sometimes that feeling when that happens that you shouldn’t be enjoying it!


    I’ve met John Green a couple of times at various conventions (LEAKYCON!) and I have to say he really is just as personable and awesome as his vlogs make him out to be (in case you’re interested: — it’s AMAZING). He’s such a witty and brilliant writer. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only had the pleasure of reading three of his books so far (along with a story out of Let It Snow, a book by three authors), but he’s one of my favorite authors of all time.

    You run a great blog her, madam, I must say. Really awesome to see that there are people out there who enjoy young adult fiction as much as I do, and writing about it. :]
    Thanks for this post. It kind of made my day. ^_^


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