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When I first heard that John Green had a collection of essays coming out, I figured I probably wouldn’t read it.
Why this was my initial reaction, I’m not entirely sure. I write and read a great deal of nonfiction and have a great appreciation for the essay collection.
I also have nothing against John Green. In fact, I quite like him as a person and as a writer.
I suppose it’s just that I saw him as a fiction writer, and entering into the world of CNF, well… I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. That, and I tend to prefer reading books by women, as I’m still getting over the fact that we primarily read books by and about men for most of my school years.
But then people kept talking about how great the book was, particularly on audio as narrated by John Green himself. And so, when my LibroFM credit loaded and I realized Somebody’s Daughter hadn’t actually released on audio yet, I decided to give it a go.
Honestly, I’m furious with Green for writing this book.
It is so good and so very much something I should have thought of first, being a nonfiction writer who enjoys looking at small bits and bobs from culture and how they shape the lives we lead. The structure of reviewing aspects of modern life as a jump-off for essays is just so smart.
Alas, he beat me to it, and he has done a phenomenal job.
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a title which, in my mind, bears a certain degree of ivory tower-ness. But the book itself doesn’t hold itself above or apart, at all.
Rather, Green examines life in the human age from various vantage points, no item or memory or experience too small to be worth hanging an essay upon. Each essay centers around some practice, item, or place, which receives a star rating at the end.
The gambit of ending each piece with “I give x … y stars” should perhaps have worn out by the end, but somehow, it didn’t. It felt charming and fun and familiar, such that I am now forever going to be giving things ratings in the voice of John Green inside my head.
Yet whether he is “reviewing” Canada geese, the world’s largest ball of paint, viral meningitis, or Diet Dr. Pepper, Green manages to comment spectacularly on the human experience and his own life. Each review becomes a sparkling personal essay full of the wit and attentive observations I’ve come to expect.
These essays are refreshingly vulnerable and honest, with a number of references to crying, and I appreciate Green giving us a full picture of masculinity which allows for humanness and feeling and sentiment and love.
For a book that tackles difficult topics like the pandemic, and grief, and loss, and our own ever-present mortality, the overall tone of the collection is surprisingly hopeful.
I found myself laughing, crying, and at one point even indulging the invitation to sing along with the narrator while standing at the sink doing the dishes. (My fiancé was, thankfully, out of town during this bit).
Though I’ve never listened to the podcast that shares its name with this book, I definitely felt a podcast-y vibe from the book at times.
By this, I mean that while I rarely speak back to an audiobook narrator, I did occasionally have a chat back with John Green as I might with a podcast host. After the aforementioned sing-a-long, I quietly muttered, “Powerful stuff, John” when the essay finished with him passing down a star rating for “Auld Lang Syne.”
I’m struggling to find further words to speak to the experience of listening to this book. In part, I’ve got a shoddy memory for audiobooks, so half of it’s already slipped away from me.
Mostly, though, this book is so very human, at once a commentary on past and present as it is a hopeful eye to the future.
All I can say is, if you’re living in the Anthropocene (you are), you should probably give this book a go.
I give The Anthropocene Reviewed… four and a half stars.
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