Goodreads trotted out the big guns today in its series of Featured Author Q&As—and hundreds of Nerdfighters flocked to participate as Vlogbrother and Young Adult author John Green stepped up to the virtual podium to answer questions from avid readers.
Previous authors in the Goodreads series, which is comparable to authors guesting on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything, include Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flyn and writing guru Anne Lamott. But few of them have attained the global fan following of John Green, who is one half of a YouTube phenomenon with his brother, musician Hank, and a Printz Award–winning author in his own right.
Since the Green brothers began their YouTube channel in 2007, they have amassed a collective of fans known as Nerdfighters, who have shown brand loyalty to all of the Greens’ various projects, from Hank’s whimsical chart-topping albums to John’s bestselling The Fault in Our Stars. Just last week, the brothers sold out Carnegie Hall.
The Goodreads Q&A has already accumulated nearly a thousand questions and declarations of love from John Green fans, which Green was still working through at press time. Most of the questions involved writing tips and insight into Green’s novels, especially the popular tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars.
One of the most frequently asked questions of the Q&A concerns a book within a book: An Imperial Affliction, a book read by the protagonist in Stars. The fictional book, which Green tells one reader is partially inspired by Infinite Jest, has no ending, either because the writer was unable to finish it or simply stopped writing. Naturally this has intrigued many readers who begged him to tell them the ending, or to write it as a novel unto itself.
Speaking to one lucky reader in a “practice run” last night, Green stated, “I don’t know how An Imperial Affliction ends or what happens after the end of the book or anything like that. … I believe that books belong to their readers, and that all I can speak to is the text. … I intended An Imperial Affliction to end ambiguously … and so not only do I feel unqualified to speak to things that happen outside the text, even if I did feel qualified, it would still require closing a loop that I want to remain open.”
Below, we present some of the highlights from the loops Green has chosen to close.
Becca: How does it feel to know that you have influenced a huge group of people?
I don’t really, like, sit back and think, “I have influenced a huge group of people.” Their most important influences are real people in their real lives. I’m glad if I can play a useful role to them, but I’m very aware that it’s a limited role. I do think books and reading can be tremendously comforting to people, though. I think they can help us to feel less alone.
It’s very strange to think that my books play that role in some people’s lives, and I’m very very grateful for it, but I honestly can’t think about it too much because otherwise I’ll get freaked out and paralyzed and stop writing….
Keith: Would you and Hank ever consider going on The Amazing Race?
Hank and I do not want to be on television for a bunch of reasons, but the biggest one is this: I edit my YouTube videos, so I get to choose what you see. On television, someone else owns and controls the rights to all the footage, and they can edit it however they want.
All these visual narratives we see on TV, whether they are scripted or “nonfictional,” are really constructed by editing. So I might be interested in EDITING a TV show, but I’d never be interested in appearing on one.
(Also The Amazing Race always involves heights and other things that scare me.)
Dena: Have you ever cried on the hands of a book or novel? If yes, what was that book called? Sincerely, Dena. A nerdfighter from Amman, Jordan. :)
Sure, I cry from reading all the time. Some books that have lately made me cry:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
I could go on. Lots of books make me cry. I get so involved in them, and I care so much, and there is so much beauty and brokenness and nobility in us. It’s overwhelming.
Sherlockkgirl: My burning question is: what was it like at the beginning of vlog brothers?
It was really fun. For the first several months, only a few hundred people watched the videos, but they were all hyper-engaged… [I]t felt like something new and fresh in my life, and I was close to Hank for the first time in years, and I was really excited. But YouTube was very different then. It took much less time to make and edit and upload videos, and the quality was very different.
On the whole, I prefer things now. It’s easy to be nostalgic, but the nerdfighter community of 2007 could never have loaned $1,800,000 through kiva or raised over $400,000 in the Project for Awesome or supported something as labor-intensive as Crash Course.
Linda: Does it get tiring keeping up with the pop culture world of the YA audience while you grow out of it?
Oh I have no relationship with the pop culture world whatsoever. I have no idea what teenagers like. I’ve literally never heard a One Direction song … apparently “Teen Wolf” has had a revival? Seriously? …
I’m involved in their culture on the Internet because I like it. I like tumblr, and I like memes, and I like the mash-up/remix/call-and-response style of making things. …
From Eme: I have been wondering this: Do you or have you ever kept a journal?
I’ve occasionally tried journaling over the years, but I always abandoned it pretty quickly. I guess the videoblog has become a kind of journal, though, where you can see Hank and me grow and change over the past six years. But that’s always been public. I’ve never found private journaling that interesting, which is probably a character flaw of mine.
From Katrine: Do you spend a lot of time with and around young adults? Your portrayal of adolescents in your novels is quite realistic.
Well, I’m blessed to have the voices of thousands of teenagers in my life through twitter and tumblr and YouTube, and to read thousands of comments every day. … I still find that time of life very interesting and accessible. It’s an important time, because everything interesting is happening for the first time, and you’re asking the big interesting questions of our species for the first time, without irony or fear. I really love writing about and for such people, and I hope I get to do it for a long time.
The Discussion group will remain open through the end of the day, so be sure to check back as Green continues to answer questions.
Photo via Goodreads