Tuesday, September 22, 2015

John Green at Central Library in Indiana

I like John Green as a person. I think that becomes apparent very quickly since with only nineteen posts in this blog I have now discussed something John Green has said twice. I am a consumer of John Green's work. I love his work on Youtube (especially Crash Course: Literature). I have read one of his novels--The Fault in Our Stars--and while I didn't gush over that novel like some people did, I did appreciate the book that Green had produced. Because, you see, The Fault in Our Stars was not written for me. It was written for those high school students who struggle and want to know that they are not alone in the world. For those students that I had in Read 180, who struggled to know whether or not they really enjoyed reading, and upon completing Green's novel were able to say, "Yes. Yes, I do like these book things." This novel is for those people who need to understand what is inside of themselves. Now, I need to feel and know those things too, but Green wasn't the author that helped me discover those things.

Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent a little bit. Let's talk about this speech that I have linked. John Green delivers a wonderful speech at the Central Library in Indiana. High school students are in attendance, both from Indiana and from Germany (through a video conference).  He speaks about Kurt Vonnegut, whom I have never read before, but now have placed Slaughterhouse-Five on my someday list. But in the midst of all this talk about Vonnegut and Indiana, Green discusses some very poignant things about why we read. Why we study and enjoy literature. 

In my profession, I have to field this question often, both from students and from adult friends who scoff at my chosen profession. They ask me why I teach literature, or why we need to read literature, or why I chose to become an English teacher when I could very easily do something else--something that will earn me quite a bit more money. And I think John Green did a better job here at articulating what I wish I could say than I ever could. So, I will list some of the things that Green said that stood out to me:
  • Green talked about traveling to a college when he was in high school to listen to Vonnegut speak. I have had similar experiences, granted, not while I was in high school, but later when I was in college. My question is, do high schoolers still travel to listen to authors? And if they don't, why not?
  • "We are incredibly ambitious, and hopeful, and stupid."
  • "Humans got places because the light is on."
  • "Human socials orders are always flawed."
  • "Stories can wake us up from our stupor and help us make thoughtful conscious decisions."
  • Reading makes us feel understood and un-alone. Reading helps us to see the world outside of ourselves and inside ourselves.
  • "Stories show us that the pain inside us is, in fact, human-ness."
  • "Authors light up the world for us."
  • We make (and consume) art to experience becoming. To find out what is inside of us.
  • "Stories can make life not only bearable, but better.
  • Green pointed out that many people don't like The Catcher in the Rye because they feel that Holden Caulfield is a whiney, bratty, liar. But then John Green said that we are all Holden Caulfield because we all act like that sometimes--especially teenagers.
Those are the ideas that stood out to me, and you really should do yourself the favor of sitting down and watching this talk in one sitting because Green says many other wonderful things and does a better job than I could. But the words ring true for me.

I read literature to understand what it means to be human, to understand that I am not alone in the world. Other people have experienced what I am experiencing. I teach literature so my students will also gain these understandings. And I feel that classical literature does a better job of helping readers understand human-ness than popular literature. I did not learn very much about life from Harry Potter, but I have learned something of life from Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, King Lear, Jane Eyre, Kurtz, and Okonkwo. I have learned so much from reading, and I can't think of a better group of teachers.


  1. Though I didn't watch the full video due to the lack of time, I did really enjoy this blog. As I was reading, I was comparing your views about the reasons why you read literature to the reasons why I read literature and I came to the conclusion that literature has a different effect on everybody. From what I understand, for you, literature is a tool that you use to learn from and "understand what it means to be human." For me, on the other hand, reading is a way to experience the world, both fictional and non-fictional. One moment you could be reading a romance that takes place on a sandy beach off the coast of Florida, then pick up another book and then you could be reading about an action packed war story from Vietnam. Books also create new worlds such as Narnia, The Hunger Games, or The Maze Runner. For me, reading is not about the learning, but rather for the experience.

  2. If you find the time you should watch the whole thing. The speech starts out about writing, being an author, moving to a new place, and Kurt Vonnegut. But at the end it is more generally focused about why people read and struggle with literature and it was simply marvelous.

    The cool thing is that everyone can have their own reasons for reading. Reading is such a personal activity and everyone is going to get different things out of what the read. You'll see this in our class too. We will all read Great Gatsby, but everyone will get different messages out of that book.