“April showers bring May flowers.” While the tulips in my front yard are finally peeking out and blooming their yellow petals, more than a few inspiring words have already been planted in my head during these opening days of May and will continue to impact me.
Case in point . . . On Friday, May 2nd, I had the honor of attending the 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library along with the wonderful Media Center Chair of the high school where I teach! This year’s lecture was presented by John Green, New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and more. Most recently, Mr. Green is named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014.
During his lecture, “Does YA Mean Anything Anymore? Genre in a Digitized World,” John spoke about the power of reading, about the inspirations behind The Fault in Our Stars (soon-to-be released as a major motion picture), about benefits of both books and digitized text, and about inspiring reluctant-reading children.
The following are my interpretations of some resonating points from John Green’s speech. (Italic words are from notes I scribbled during the lecture, followed by my own elaborations.)
1. Reading allows us to get out of ourselves. The world outside of ourselves is more vast than the world within ourselves. Reading thoughts and experiences of others – even those fictional others – allows us to see that. At times, we may feel as if we are the only ones in the world experiencing a certain problem; books, in fact, prove otherwise – every problem every person ever experienced has been written down somewhere. Reading validates our thoughts.
2. John Green wrote The Fault in our Stars as a book about sick people, not a book about the lessons healthy people learn from them. In other words, he didn’t want the book to convey any clichéd messages about death reminding us how short life is. Rather, he illustrates the true essence of struggles and emotions people living with a terminal illness face. He describes the story as hopeful without being dishonest.
3. John Green declared just how important it is for us as educators to frequent our libraries and bookstores to keep hard copies of books alive in many hands. There is something concrete and personal about reading from a book that can’t be found within digital text. What books can’t do, however, is provide an instant channel for two-way conversation. Through electronic highlights and notes, instant search engine access, and easy chat with fellow readers, digital text provides constant accessibility that a book can’t. There is value in both but one cannot completely replace the other nor should it.
4. To our reluctant readers, John tells us to tell them that reading takes time. One can’t expect to instantly fall in love with reading after, say, one book. Yes, it’s an investment – in time and in thought. Wait, be patient. The best part: reading makes one a better person, a better friend, a better boyfriend (a particular motivator for Mr. Green growing up!), a better spouse, a better parent, a better teacher . . . The more we read, the more we know. The more we read, the more we understand and are understood. Some of us inherently know this; some of us don’t. That’s okay – books are available to all to use for personal interpretation and use!!
As I look over my post before I press “publish,” I notice it doesn’t nearly convey all the inspiration and excitement and hope I hold just as strongly now as from the moment my friend and I walked off of Floor 9 in the library. It doesn’t show the brightness in my students eyes as I tell them I met you over the weekend. It doesn’t give any of your books or vlogs or blogs any rage review that they each deserve.
Mr. Green, thank you for providing thought-provoking stories that speak to a wide-array of readers of many ages and backgrounds. One of my students, also at this event, was literally shaking with nervous excitement as she spoke to you. She’s read each one of your books and listened to some of your CrashCourse videos (while cleaning at home!) to prepare for an upcoming AP test. Thank you for providing a voice teenagers can trust, a voice (from your words) that is “hopeful but not dishonest,” direct yet not harsh, and sympathetic but not lamenting. We can’t wait to see what you share next!
Here’s a link to a video John Green recorded and placed on Instagram the very next day after his time in Chicago. It showcases a large crowd of fans, lined up and waiting for the first screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie, screaming as John passes by. What truly makes me happy is the rockstar status he is gaining from his writing. Writers Rock!!!