Amazed is how I would describe how I felt at today’s author talk. I kept thinking, the response from the audience is more like what you would expect for a rock star or a popular comedian. John Green, author of YA books such as Looking for Alaska and Paper towns, bounded into the Village Roadshow Theatrette at the State Library with the energy and enthusiasm that his online followers would know, and was greeted by an impressive and prolonged cheering.
And this is where he is perhaps more like the rock star, or at least the comedian, because John Green doesn’t just write books, he relates to his readers as a person, and he does this through a number of online exploits – a blog and videos, amongst other things.
As a teacher librarian, I’m always thinking about how to engage students in reading, so I started writing a blog which would hopefully seem less like an academic, teachery (just made up the word – still fresh from John Green’s way of talking) thing, and more like something from popular culture that young people would read. When using the blog to talk to students about what’s worth reading and why, the best thing has been the availability of John Green’s nerdfighters.com videos on his Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. They’re very funny, extremely entertaining, quirky, witty and intelligent. Very popular was the video where he filmed himself carrying out a challenge to climb onto a table. John is incredibly afraid of heights, and Justine Larbalestier had dared him (publicly) to stand up on a table for money that would go to a charity of his choice. He did this at home and filmed himself. Now that’s putting yourself out there. And this is, in my opinion, John’s secret. He puts himself out there – through his blog, ning, videos, etc. He doesn’t present an author persona, he actually extends what he writes about by having discussions with his readers about what he thinks, what he believes, and why he does that. And it helps, of course, to be so dynamic, so genial, and so funny.
As a last-minute thing, I asked my 15 year old son if he wanted to come with me. I was really expecting most of the audience to be made up of librarians, so it was surprising to see that most were adolescents.
Today is food for thought. I’d like to incorporate more of what John Green does on my reading blog. He brings to authors a fresh, personal face, not the usual brief biography readers usually get.
Here’s what he says about what makes a good book. My camera isn’t flash, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality. John says that a book doesn’t belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader. The reader decides the value. He says it’s a good book, in his opinion, if it makes him think, wonder about, and feel; if it has emotional complexity; if it makes him re-examine the map he’s drawn of his world. Good books, he says, have real and lasting value.
What I think makes John Green a successful writer, is that he doesn’t underestimate his readers’ intelligence and maturity. He says that you can’t write a book that is too smart or complex for teenagers, because they are capable of reading critically and thoughtfully. He gives the example of the popularity of The book thief, by Markus Zusak , which maintains high sales.
I’m happy that I managed to get a ticket to the second of two sold-out meetings with John Green in Melbourne. There were many people in the audience from outside of Melbourne, one even who had travelled from New Zealand. John seemed sincerely thrilled that so many had come to see him.
My son isn’t an avid reader, but he wanted to buy Paper towns after hearing John talk about the book, and not only the book, but his thoughts and ideas that went into the book. We bought the book, and when Maxim went to get it signed, John made him laugh by saying that he wanted to trade names with him. Good on you, John, for doing such a great job in relating to young people in such a real way.