Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, GUESS WHAT?!? I went to the John and Hank Green event!!! I guess you already knew that because I called you right afterwards, but it was AWESOME.
As you most definitely already know, I’m a very geeky/nerdy person in terms of books and pop culture, so you would think by this point I would have gone to some sort of Convention, Conference, or Gathering.* But no, I have not, so I was a wee bit excited to go see John and Hank live (aka the vlogbrothers).
**Non-Maggie-Readers Aside: For those of you who don’t know who the vlogbrothers are, or what a nerdfighter is, where have you been? Oh, you don’t read YA and/or watch YouTube obsessively? Ok, ok, normal person. But, fyi, nerdfighters are notable enough to have their own Wikipedia article, which in internet terms means you’ve made the big time.**
On Sunday I moseyed on over to the Bagdad Theater. No, let’s be real, I scurried over as fast as I could and then freaked out when the Hawthorne Bridge decided that would be a good time to go up (damn you, City of Bridges). But no worries, I snagged a spot and had my first nerdfighter chat with my neighbor. It was a bit disconcerting to talk to a stranger who knew all the same inside jokes as me.
I feel bad for those who thought they were going to a book signing. This was no ordinary author event. This was the Tour de Nerdfighting!
John did read and discuss The Fault in Our Stars (which I’ll talk about in a bit). But the event also had Hank Sock puppet theater, costume changes, geeky music, and a question and answer session that ended in one or the other of the Greens being mildly electrocuted (that’s one way to ensure you don’t go over time!). It basically would be unintelligible to those not in on nerdfighteria.
I’ve never been in a 700-person theater where everyone knows all the inside jokes from a YouTube channel, laughs at all the references to Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Sherlock, and sings along to songs about quantum physics and anglerfish. I’m all enthused about conventions/gatherings now. Emerald City Comicon? VidCon? San Diego ComicCon? So many options! (Sadly, so little money and so little time ).
John’s thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars were wonderful to hear and eerily reflective of your earlier post (smarty pants you). He spoke about heroes, and the heroism of tiny acts. In today’s society, a hero is thought of like a character in a first-person shooter video game: you fight, and kill, lots of people for a noble cause. You are Max Mayhem from The Price of Dawn. That is what Augustus believes in: that you need to do something grand for your life to have meaning. He is named Augustus as a reflection of this belief, while his nickname, Gus, refers to his more insecure and timid half. But this hero ideal is rarely achievable in today’s world. Now Hazel, her name (as an indeterminate color) represents her in-between state: in-between child and adult and in-between dying and not dying. Hazel’s approach to life is on the small and meaningful scale and it is those small acts of heroism that John was/is interested in writing about.
John also informed us we are all going to die (spoiler alert!). This inevitability means we need to think about how we spend our consciousness. How do we want to use our thoughts and brain power? By dissecting the latest break up on Jersey Shore? No. By inventing something that decreases world suck.
Of course this all sounded much much better in person, but that’s the gist.
John made a video about the tour performances (which you’ve probably already seen, but WATCH IT AGAIN because it’s WONDERFUL. Ah, fandom) that attempts to encapsulate the tour’s essence. What is particularly cool is that the longest clip, the singing of 500 miles, is from the Portland show!! w00t!
Though it was cool going to the show it was not nearly as fun without my fellow Nerdfighter Maggie. Next nerdfighter gathering we need to go together.
PS The program came with a letter customized for Portland and, among other things, a nerdfighter lexicon. Click to embiggen.
*There was that Star Trek convention in a Holiday Inn down by the airport when I was nine. I may or may not have bought a pint-sized Star Trek uniform. Let’s just not mention that.
Maggie, I don’t think I’ve ever sobbed so much while reading a book. But I did not only bawl, I also laughed and often laughed through tears.
My inner bookstore employee can’t help but notice the handselling hazards of The Fault in Our Stars. How do you explain to new readers, the ones who have never heard of John Green or nerdfighteria, or those who do not read “children’s books, ” that they must read this impactful and gorgeous story? I can just imagine a handsell going like this: “Yeah, so this novel is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read with characters you befriend and writing you want to quote. What’s it about? Oh, uh, two kids with cancer.” It’s The Book Thief all over again! (btw, Markus Zuask, the author of The Book Thief, blurbed this book for what that’s worth).
Our narrator, Hazel, is all profound thoughts, wit, and gallows humor. Augustus Waters (a fellow that needs his full name) is, as one synopsis put it, a “gorgeous plot twist” who arrives at Hazel’s cancer kid support group in the first chapter. You suspect their relationship is doomed from the start, but you can’t help cheering them on.
The thing is, yes, this book is about kids with cancer but it’s not an “issue book” or a “cancer book.” Including cancer gives those of us who have so far escaped our family or ourselves having such an experience a small window into the realities of a terminal illness and a tiny ounce of understanding.
The book is about Hazel’s outlook on life. It is about being alive, being in love, and recognizing the inevitability of death.
This all sounds very deep and profound, and some parts of The Fault in Our Stars are. But, it also talks about boys, the mall, video games, and America’s Next Top Model. It made me laugh out loud one paragraph and cry the next. So, non-Maggie readers, take this as my handsell pitch: Read this book for a shot of pure emotion.
When I was writing my thesis, I was obsessed with reading lists of “Books that Changed the World” in an effort to find some solid idea of why fiction matters. And that’s not to suggest that literature demands justification or that it needs some larger function in order to be important. I think questions like “So what are you doing with your English major” can be profoundly thoughtless because simply in the asking, they devalue knowledge as a pursuit. I did not need to go into publishing because I was an English major; studying something that was important and meaningful to me was (and should be) enough.
So my thesis was never intended to be defensive—I did not want justify the discipline or the time I devoted (and still devote) to reading; I was just curious why. Why did reading become one of the biggest factors in the person I am and am still becoming? What drew me to books, rather than movies or sports or theater?
And obviously, these are not really the kinds of questions one can definitively answer—and certainly not in a way that makes a tenable argument. But I still wondered, and still spent the time I should have spent researching on this nebulous and quixotic side quest.
So when the books and articles about “Literature that Changed the World” would always include books like Mein Kampf and On the Origin of Species (which, yes, obviously changed the world) it was not really what I was looking for. In the first place, they weren’t fiction. Even though I enjoy nonfiction (I’m working at an academic publisher, for goodness sake!), I would never suggest that nonfiction is as important to me as novels. And in the second place, I wanted something more individualized; not sweeping books that changed scientific study and the actions of nations, but the books that—in Jane Smiley’s terms—shift one’s perspective.
As you know, I ended up reshaping my project entirely. Frustrated by my lack of answers (and the growing insistence of my thesis advisor) I stopped looking for the nagging whys or hows, but instead to way these books make people reach out, build communities, and connect with each other. This turned into an extended study on blogging, vlogging, forums, tumblr, fanfiction, and general expressions of fandom (Of which this blog is a direct result). But despite my interest in the subject and participation in these communities, I never really developed a conclusion that satisfied me—probably because I was not-so-stealthily trying to use these public venues to find the original answers I’d been looking for.
Anyway, I gave blood today, and as I was sitting in the chair waiting in horrified anxiety to be stuck with a needle (it’s never all that bad, but I will never stop freaking out about it), it finally hit me that although what I was looking for was about books, I would never find the answers in them.
I am terrified of needles, hate even the thought of pain, and yet every 6 weeks I’ll volunteer for both. And its not because I like to face my fears or because giving blood gives me a warm charitable sensation. It’s because I have to.
It’s for Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. For Jenny Crawford, Lacey Duval, Amanda Burdick, and Katie O’Rourke. It’s because I read a lot of books growing up and they shaped me into someone who remembers crying in my bed about the death of a fictional someone that may as well have been someone real.
According to the Red Cross posters, donated blood can save 1-3 lives. Maybe that fact alone would have been enough for me to donate, but when I lean back in those chairs and nervously eye the needle about to puncture my skin, I can say with 100% certainty that I’m never thinking about statistics.
Books can change the world. And not just in the sweeping way of history and monumental change, but in the tiny shifts of perspective that allow me, every 6 weeks, to face down a hollow needle.
As you may have guessed by the length of my posts and the duration of our conversations, I like to talk about the things I like. I’m not satisfied with mere agreement; we have to EXPLICITLY agree on EVERY PARTICULAR point. And if agreement is never reached, we will debate until one of us falls unconscious from lack of sleep.
(I’m actually a little surprised that hasn’t happened yet.)
This proclivity for hyperanalysis means that I am never completely satisfied when a discussion ends. I still have thoughts I want to share, even if the conversation has moved on. That’s part of the reason I haven’t posted for a third time about Mistborn.
So imagine my surprise when you texted me about The Fault in Our Stars, and every overanalytic/gushing sentence I’d drafted completely vanished.
“I just finished The Fault in Our Stars,” you said. “What a gorgeous book.”
Somehow, everything I want to say is summed up in that single word.