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June 3, 2014 8:38 AM   Subscribe

The Teen Whisperer by Margaret Talbot [New Yorker] How the author [John Green] of “The Fault in Our Stars” built an ardent army of fans.
posted by Fizz (24 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was two years behind John Green at Kenyon, and I still haven't read any of his books. Might be because I was deferred from some of the fiction classes he was undoubtedly in at the time, but also because the plot synopsis of "The Fault in Our Stars" reads exactly like every Lurlene McDaniel book I read as a teenager.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:49 AM on June 3


Not a teenager, and I loved The Fault in Our Stars, which I thought etched some genuinely likeable and memorable characters, gave me more of a sense of what it is like to live with disease than most books, and was witty enough to make me laugh aloud at many points. The man is a good writer.
posted by bearwife at 8:58 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


I have heard great things about the book and it's on my iPad but I have yet to read it. I will say this though, the movie trailer is not helping. It looks and feels so generic. And maybe it isn't but my gut is telling me to at least stay away from the film. The book may be something else. We'll see.
posted by Fizz at 9:05 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Although I like YA and I respect what John Green has done (though I really am irritated by the way the media frames it), I do not actually enjoy his books. Not sure why.
posted by jeather at 9:08 AM on June 3


You know who also built an ardent army? That's right, the Mongols.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:15 AM on June 3 [26 favorites]


I loved The Fault in Our Stars. The plot is kind of generic, but it's written so extremely well, and the characters are so real and funny, and there's no schmaltzy sentimentality. I work in oncology and the descriptions of how people treat the main characters (who, spoiler alert, are sick kids) rang true to me. I pretty much started crying a couple screens in (I read it as an ebook) and cried all the way to the end, so it's a tearjerker for sure, but it earns it, it's not making you cry by being generically be-sad-a-kid-is-dying.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:17 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]


While I'm not suggesting that this is the only reason for his success, Green uses social media very, very effectively, and seems to have a level of comfort with social media that I think his fans appreciate. Also, IIRC he hand-signed every preordered paper copy of the book at no extra cost, which I have to imagine might have tipped people from "meh I'll buy it once it's released" to "okay I'll pre-order." And my understanding of the publishing business is that pre-orders are important in terms of judging the initial print run of a book, which in turn drives how well it's distributed, etc. So that could have been a good, if tedious, investment of time with a permanent marker.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:17 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


That was really more of a horde.
posted by elizardbits at 9:19 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I do not actually enjoy his books. Not sure why.

He's probably a goddamn phony
posted by thelonius at 9:22 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


The plot is kind of generic, but it's written so extremely well, and the characters are so real and funny, and there's no schmaltzy sentimentality.

And this is my main gripe with the way the trailer of the film has been presented. It seems to be full of schmaltzy sentimentality. Though that is hardly the fault of the actors. See what I did there. I'm sorry.
posted by Fizz at 9:23 AM on June 3


because the plot synopsis of "The Fault in Our Stars" reads exactly like every Lurlene McDaniel book I read as a teenager.

I hear you (and oh man did I read way too many LMcD books), but it goes so far beyond being a dying-kid book, I promise. I started reading it a little warily, but was surprised by how much I laughed and really enjoyed the characters. (And then I cried so hard I gave myself a headache, and also I stayed up until 2am so I could finish the book, which I essentially read in one sitting, so. I'm actively avoiding the movie because I don't want to screw with the book-characters, who are so finely drawn.) I have to admit, though, I liked Paper Towns better.

I would also like to thank John Green for ensuring that I am not the oldest person on Tumblr.
posted by kalimac at 9:33 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Huh. I'm a huge fan of John Green from his Crash Course videos, but I wasn't even aware of his novels. I'll have to check those out.
posted by tdismukes at 9:49 AM on June 3


I will truly never understand why people dismiss books and movies on the basis that the plot isn't novel. Do you really only appreciate literature on the level of plot? The plot is the least interesting thing about a lot of the books that I really love. I liked TFIOS, and I think what's interesting about it is the characterization and the narrator's voice.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:03 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I think the trailers are being so conservatively handled (to avoid telling the entire story in the trailers, removing all the legitimate gut-punches from the story) that it's doing a disservice to the film. If I hadn't read the book I would find the trailers uncompellingly vague.

I am a little fatigued by the John Green worship - female YA authors, including the authors of the Potter/Hunger Games juggernauts, are never declared the saviors of YA as if the genre was covered in a thick layer of dust until someone with a penis came along and sorted it all out. But the book is good and I'm looking forward to the film.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:27 AM on June 3 [12 favorites]


My recollection is that J.K. Rowling was not identified as the savior of YA because she had already been raised as the savior of Book Publishing Itself. Which seems to me to be a quite larger crown.
posted by joelhunt at 10:54 AM on June 3 [6 favorites]


I will truly never understand why people dismiss books and movies on the basis that the plot isn't novel. Do you really only appreciate literature on the level of plot? The plot is the least interesting thing about a lot of the books that I really love. I liked TFIOS, and I think what's interesting about it is the characterization and the narrator's voice.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious


It's just that I've already seen a Walk to Remember once, I really don't need to sit through it again. I'm not saying A Fault in Our Stars is that or will be that but the trailers kinda give me flashbacks which doesn't mean I'm as thrilled to go see it.
posted by Carillon at 11:24 AM on June 3


Thank you for the opportunity to read that great article, fizz; without an ounce of pretension or cruelty, it is still amazingly revealing.
In recent years, whenever Green has appeared at a book signing he has been greeted by hundreds, often thousands, of screaming fans, mostly teen-age girls. The weirdness of this is hard to overstate.
Weird indeed, but further on she does tell us a few things that might make it a bit more graspable:
Green enrolled in Kenyon in 1995. He chose a double major in religion and literature. His friend Kathy Hickner, who also hung out in the religion department, remembers him as “one of these really huge personalities” who was “always talking,” but also as the person she could count on “to go to church with me and discuss the sermon.”
I see Green as a kind of familiar figure in American life in an unfamiliar context which makes him harder to recognize: he's a young and charismatic preacher akin to the great tent evangelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or Billy Graham a little more recently, yet blithely and exuberantly free of the crushing triple burden of Bible, Church, and doctrine.

She has him saying only one thing that really set my teeth on edge:
When Green was at Indian Springs, a girl at the school was killed in a car accident. She wasn’t a close friend, but it was a small school, and, as he said, “it’s so hard to get your head around that when you’re a kid.” He went on, “Infinite sets are a difficult thing to get your head around generally, but the forever of it—I just felt so bad for her. I still feel so bad for her.”
But he's young yet, and daily growing.
posted by jamjam at 11:25 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I'm a huge fan of John Green from his Crash Course videos, but I wasn't even aware of his novels.

I'm sort of the opposite, I like his novels but could never get into his web stuff (unlike Maureen Johnson or Justine Larbalastier whose web presence was almost more fun than their books, at least, pre Twitter).

I like Looking For Alaska the best, The Fault In Our Stars is just too inconvenient to read what with the need for Kleenex.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:02 PM on June 3


I feel weird in that I'm not really John Green fan, per se, so much as I respect what he's doing and the community he's built, despite the annoying way he's been crowned the savior of YA. His influence is wildly disproportionate to be sure, which isn't really his fault, but it's pretty damn hard to object to what he does with that influence. jamjam brings up a great point that Green is kind of filling the charismatic preacher role, only sans religion. And really, if someone has to get a cultish following of teenagers, it's nice that Green is a good guy whose fandom consists of earnest do-gooding teens.

Also, for those dubious about The Fault in Our Stars: the movie trailers do indeed look like A Walk to Remember 2.0, but the book is not. I didn't find the book to be emotionally manipulative in a gross way. It's refreshingly, and somewhat brutally, unsentimental about suffering and illness. Once I learned that Green had been an apprentice chaplain in a children's hospital, it became obvious to me that The Fault in Our Stars was his way to work through that experience, and that his apparent conclusions as presented in the book were neither mawkishly sentimental nor hideously depressing.
posted by yasaman at 2:10 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


yasaman: I concur. The Greens sound like good eggs and all that, but I just can't bring myself to read anything that's primarily advertised with "WILL MAKE YOU CRY!!1111!!!" I don't WANNA cry if I don't have to, dammit. I'm sure TFIOS is excellent, I just don't want more sads around.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:38 PM on June 3


I picked up TFIOS because I was promised a sobfest, but that never happened because everything was just so unbelievably twee. I managed to squeeze out a couple of tears in between eye-rolls, but that was it, and I cry very, very easily. Same thing with Code Name Verity.
posted by peripathetic at 4:40 PM on June 3


I got a chance to see the movie at a sneak preview and it's actually pretty good. If you enjoyed the book, you'll like the movie. It's very true to the book and the actors were very well cast.
posted by angelchrys at 8:40 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


This is a great article. I had inferred a lot about John from his books and his vlogs, but it's revealing to see the whole story. I first discovered him when An Abundance Of Katherines came out, and I dug it enough to read Looking For Alaska and grab Paper Towns, Will Grayson, and T.F.I.O.S. when they came out.

But I began to notice something that worried me a little about John Green's future: he only can write about stuff based on his own past life. Paper Towns was about a high school kid in Florida, just as John was, and Alaska was set at a boarding school in the Deep South, very similar to the one John transferred to (and which seems to have been the defining experience of his entire life, like one of those tedious St. Johnnies), and both of them felt real and powerful and deeply true. Katherines, on the other hand, was funny but felt deeply fake; he didn't seem to have a clue what being a young math whiz was like, and the way the main character thought about girls didn't match any teenage boy I ever knew. (It does end with the greatest completely symbolic pseudo-sex-scene ever; you can't fault the storytelling anywhere.) I was surprised to find T.F.I.O.S. was so good despite his never having been a young cancer patient, and then I read this article to discover that he used to be a chaplain working with young cancer patients.

I am kind of baffled by the belief that John Green is hailed as the greatest thing to happen to YA Fiction more than J. K. Rowling was. That must be what it looks like from the inside of the YA Blogosphere, 'cause out here in the mundane world, J. K. apparently stood for Jeezus Khrist, Savior Of Young People's Relationship With The Written Word. Part of Green's communicative skill is effective as promotion and P.R., so I suppose the people trying to sell YA books love him. Rowling and Collins (Hunger Games) are typical authors who prefer to deal with the rest of the world through sitting inside and writing novels, while Green really prefers to yak yak yak with people all the time and only succeeded with writing when he learned to put his chatty persona down on paper. (So many of the authors I loved as a child would fail in today's environment; John Bellairs barely left his house and Joan North's sole involvement with the publishing world consisted of mailing off a manuscript every few years. When the market for children's books was 99% libraries, a strict chain of writer -> editor -> publisher -> specialist review press -> librarian worked fine.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:44 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Shit don't wanna cry at work


>I am a little fatigued by the John Green worship - female YA authors, including the authors of the Potter/Hunger Games juggernauts, are never declared the saviors of YA as if the genre was covered in a thick layer of dust until someone with a penis came along and sorted it all out. But the book is good and I'm looking forward to the film.

Uhh.... That seems to be digging for sexism and ignoring reality. Growing up with Harry Potter, J.K Rowling was hailed as a super-hero of YA fiction. The single British women who resuscitated a generation on her own. What do you argue as a counterfactual? What is your supporting argument that had J.K. Rowling been a man, the appreciation for her would have been different? It seems a little forced.
posted by jjmoney at 12:41 PM on June 4


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