YA icon, superhero, geek-advocate, and regular Redditor John Green took to Reddit’s r/IAmA subreddit today to speak directly to his fans. This far from unusual for Green, who has an active presence on Tumblr and is known for jumping into conversation threads, as well as keeping up with fans of his YouTube channel, vlogbrothers. Armed with the same charm and humor for which his books are famous, Green answered readers candidly as they offered up questions about the upcoming film adaptation of his bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, whether or not readers need to cry to enjoy his books, and why he writes Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
About naming his characters: “One of the benefits of naming characters that you don’t have when, say, naming a baby is that you actually know the person when you name them. So you can use the name to reflect stuff about them.
Like, take Hazel: Hazel is an in-between color, and she’s in between a lot of things: In between healthy and sick, in between adulthood and childhood, in between breathing air and breathing water, etc. So that seemed like a small way of communicating the instability and fear (but also excitement) of that time of life.
With Augustus: Augustus is the name of Roman emperors, right? It’s a grand name associated with traditional notions of greatness. But Gus is a kid’s name. It’s short and cute. In the novel, he makes the journey from strength to weakness, which is the opposite of the usual hero’s journey. He starts out this confident, pretentious kid who’s extremely performative in his every action. And then he becomes vulnerable. He becomes cracked open. For Gus, this is a brutal process. (Remember that moment toward the end when he says to Hazel, “You used to call me Augustus”?) But his ability to be in it with her, and to allow himself to love and be loved despite the loss of the self he so carefully cultivated, is to my mind way more heroic than those traditional notions of Great Men Doing Great Things.”
On identifying as a feminist: “My hardcore badass feminist mom told both my brother and me that we were feminists from the time we were like two years old, so if she ever heard me saying I wasn’t a feminist she’d fly to my house and smack me upside the head.”
On his books becoming movies: “I am really proud of The Fault in Our Stars movie, and I think it turned out unbelievably well. It’s one of the most faithful movie adaptations I’ve ever seen, and I’m tremendously grateful to everyone who made it. But that is a rare, rare thing. Usually an author’s relationship with their movie adaptations is much more… complicated. And so I have to say, I’m not bummed out that [Looking for] Alaska hasn’t been made into a movie. (It may someday; I don’t control the rights and never will.) There’s something magical to a story belonging to its readers and only to its readers, and I’m very grateful that Alaska has continued to find its way in the world without the boost of a movie adaptation.
Harry Potter will forever be Daniel Radcliffe to me. I can’t remember how I imagined Harry before the movies. But your Pudge and your Alaska… they still belong to you. They are still inside your head, and yours alone. There’s something wonderful about that.”
On who (dead or alive) he’d choose to have dinner with if he could: “Difficult question but honestly probably my grandmother. Yes, it would be nice to find out what Jesus or Muhammad or Cleopatra really thought and valued, but I miss my grandmother a lot and would like to hear some of her stories about growing up in Skullbone, Tennessee just one last time.”
On fame, privacy, and going to Target: “Well, I realize it’s a bit strange to be like, ‘AMA on Reddit! Follow me on Tumblr! Read my tweets about what I had for breakfast! BUT DO NOT COME NEAR MY FAMILY OR VIOLATE OUR PRIVACY.’
But yeah. It’s inappropriate to go to people’s houses, and we do—too often—have people come by the house and knock on the door or leave stuff in the mailbox. That’s very scary to me, but it’s also weird and disorienting for my kids to be playing in the front yard and have people they don’t know drive by and shout ‘Hi Henry! Hi Alice!’
There is a difference between the person I am professionally and the person I am privately, and I need to hold onto that in order not to lose my mind, and also in order to be a good father and husband. So I do seek privacy in my personal life insofar as possible.
That said, if you ever see me at like Target or whatever, feel free to come up and say hi. If I’m in public, I know that I’m in public, and it’s always nice to meet people who like the stuff I make, and I genuinely want you to say hi. (That’s not the case for many people, I know, but it is the case for me.)”
On the manic pixie dream girl: “Books belong to their readers, but I hope that my books battle the idea that women are objects to be desired and/or worshipped by men rather than reinforcing that idea.
In Looking for Alaska, it is Pudge’s (and everyone else’s) failure to see Alaska as a person—a person whose pain is as real as anyone else’s—that leaves them feeling, rightly, guilty. In Paper Towns, the lie of the manic pixie dream girl is attacked very directly (I hope) as we see what happens when young men dehumanize young women by idolizing them and buying into this trope that girls exist to swoop down into your life and change you.
In Paper Towns, Quentin cannot find Margo until he stops thinking of her as a thing and starts thinking of her as a person, complete with all the complexities and weaknesses of any other person, and I think it’s pretty explicit in the text: “Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.”
It’s only once Q can imagine Margo as a complex human being separate from his ideas of her that he’s able to make a real connection with her.
But yeah, regardless of whether I’ve succeeded, I personally think the MPDG trope is dangerous and destructive.”
On writing YA novels from a YA perspective: “I don’t think YA novels need to be written from a teen perspective ( The Book Thief is narrated by Death, after all), but they need to be about teenagers and not written with too much narrative distance. (Like, for me at least a YA novel is a book about adolescence that feels like it’s happening NOW instead of a book looking back upon adolescence.)”
On having a large teen fanbase: “Teenagers give a shit. They are unironically enthusiastic, and they look at big questions about meaning and suffering and responsibility directly and without embarrassment. This inspires me, because I also like thinking about those questions but sometimes feel that there’s something naive or childish about, like, seeking authentic and sincere emotional and intellectual ways of engaging. I really like that about them.
Plus, they’re forming their values, which is a hugely important process, and it’s a great honor to be offered a seat at the table in that conversation.”
On whether or not you should cry when you read TFIOS: “Some people seem to think that in order to have enjoyed a book with sad parts, you MUST CRY. But I think there are lots of ways to enjoy a book, and if you say you liked it, I believe you, and I don’t think you are like a heartless monster or anything.
That said, I am also grateful to people who cry, because I need to drink human tears in order to go out in the daytime. #vampirism”
THERE ARE SO MANY.”