Tag Archives: john green

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Before he wrote his mega-selling novel, The Fault In Our Stars, young adult author John Green penned this 2008 gem that featured Colin Singleton, a child prodigy whose distinction was that he had been dumped 19 times by women named Katherine.

It was a difficult proposition for the reader to buy, but Green pulled it off. Katherine 19 dumped Colin at the end of his senior year in high school. Heartbroken and adrift, Colin embarked on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan.

A major theme in the book was the desire of young people to matter–to someone else and to the world. Colin had a desperate desire to matter; he wanted his life to have significance. Green would later return to this notion in TFIOS through the character, Augustus Waters, whose greatest fear is oblivion.

Obsessed with figuring out why he can’t make a relationship work with the various Katherines, Colin turned to math to try to derive the answer. He developed the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability and plotted graphs in a notebook showing the peaks and valleys of the relationship between the Dumper and the Dumpee. What the reader knew and what Colin eventually figured out was that math and science cannot explain why people are attracted to one another and why some relationships last while others do not.

While this might seem like an obvious lesson for the reader, the journey Green takes us on is so much fun and Colin is such an engaging character that it is worth the ride. At least for me. Along the way, Colin and Hassan discover the purported gravesite of Archduke Ferdinand, whose assassination triggered World War I, in, of all places, a town called Gutshot, Tennessee. That’s also where the due meet the irrepressible Lindsey Lee Wells and Hollis, her mysterious mother, the industrial mogul who employs the entire town.

What sustained this book was the verbal interplay between Colin and Hassan and Colin’s odd assortment of talents, which include an affinity for anagrams, learning multiple languages and his knowledge of odd historical facts. He is a lovable oddball and his coming of age tale provides valuable lessons about the nature of relationships.


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Why Introverts Make Good Writers

Writing is a lonely calling. Solitude and reflection are integral parts of the writing process. Writers need to spend a lot of time alone. Though I could not locate any scientific data to back this theory, I believe most writers would call themselves introverts.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author and former corporate lawyer Susan Cain promotes the virtues of introverts in a world that seems to favor the qualities of extroverts. “The business world and much of American culture is skewed toward extroverts,” Cain said at a recent conference. Introverts are widely misunderstood. Seen as lesser contributors and even as anti-social by some, introverts “simply process knowledge and engage with their surroundings in a different, quieter context.”

While extroverts draw energy from being around other people, “introverts feel their most alive, their most engaged, and their deepest sense of equilibrium when they are in environments that are less stimulating,” Cain said. These periods of solitude allow introverts to be at their most creative, she said, citing among other examples, the best-selling author JK Rowling.

Author John Green, who has penned a number of acclaimed Young Adult novels, puts it this way: “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”

Here are some of the qualities of introverts and how these are beneficial to the writing process:

• Listening. Introverts are generally good listeners. They prefer listening to talking. While one would think extroverts can mine more rich material for their stories because they are out in the world more, introverts in social situations do a lot more watching and listening. I like to sit in a coffee shop and watch people, listen for snatches of conversation that I can use or adapt in a story.
• Watching. Introverts are keenly aware of their surroundings. They may not feel comfortable going up to a stranger and starting a conversation, but they can spot clues from a person’s body language or choice of clothing. I’m not suggesting extroverts don’t have this trait, but I believe its more acute in introverts.
• Reflection. As Cain said, introverts have a deep need to process knowledge, rather than to react quickly or make snap judgments. It’s this quality that is one of the most essential to any successful writer. Giving meaning and context to a set of facts and emotions is crucial to the storytelling process.
• Solitude. Introverts crave periods of solitude. They are not at all uncomfortable about being alone for long periods of time. This “alone time” is like gold to a writer. Achieving 1,000 words per day requires several consecutive hours behind a closed door or hunkered down in a library or a café with your nose in your laptop. Extroverts get jumpy when they have to spend that much time alone. Introverts thrive on it.

What about you? Are you an introvert? If so, has it helped or hindered your writing process?


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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Teen-agers believe they are immortal. We’ve all heard that bromide and there’s a lot of truth in it. But, what goes through the minds of teen-agers afflicted by a terminal disease? How do they view the world differently than other teens? How do they approach life when their days are numbered? When they know they will never experience many of life’s milestones: a job, a career, marriage, children, grand children, professional and personal achievements? How will they be remembered (She fought a courageous battle)? More importantly how do they want to be remembered?

John Green explores these questions and more in his heart-wrenching, incisive and at times witty novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel Grace Lancaster suffers from thyroid cancer. She almost died when she was 13, but miraculously survived and now the cancer has settled in her lungs. Hazel is taking an experimental drug which is prolonging her life. She breathes with the help of oxygen tanks. At one point she corrects her mother, who uses the phrase “if you die.” Hazel responds by telling mom “when,” not if.

The story opens with 16-year-old Hazel in the depths of depression. Her mom prods her to attend a youth cancer support group that meets in the basement of a local church. There she meets Augustus Waters, a “hot” former basketball player whose leg was amputated below the knee to stave off, as he put it, “a touch of osteosarcoma.” Augustus is cancer-free. He is also completely in love with Hazel.

Hazel loves Augustus, too, but fights her feelings, knowing she will die soon. She doesn’t want to be a “grenade” exploding on Augustus, scarring him for life. Hazel is a realist and an acerbic critic of the culture of cancer support groups, while she fully understands how difficult and heartbreaking it is to be a parent of a cancer victim. She continually uses the phrase “cancer perks,” the Make-A-Wish trips and the people who provide them, who she refers to as “the Genies.”

Equally clear-eyed, Augustus reminds Hazel that the world is not a wish-granting factory. Nonetheless, Augustus uses his wish to take Hazel, accompanied by her mom, to Amsterdam to meet an author, Peter Van Houten, whose novel, An Imperial Affliction, about a young girl dying from cancer, has deeply affected Hazel. The novel ends in mid-sentence, leaving Hazel to speculate that the girl died or was too sick to continue writing. Hazel has written several letters asking the author how the story ends, but he hasn’t answered any of them. Augustus managed to reach the author’s assistant, who has promised to answer Hazel’s questions in person if she travels to Amsterdam.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing much more than that. Although the meeting with Van Houten is a disaster, in a strange way, Hazel finds answers in Amsterdam, though not the ones she was seeking. As for Augustus, his biggest fear is oblivion, the notion he will die without making an impact on the universe. What I believe Green’s touching and heartbreaking story tells us is that our legacy is not what we leave behind for the universe to remember us by, but the impact we have on the people who matter most to us.


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