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No more writing in code: John Green on hope, vulnerability, and writing non-fiction

No more writing in code: John Green on hope, vulnerability, and writing non-fiction

During interviews to promote his latest book The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green would often say, “I didn’t want to write in code anymore.”

But what does writing in code mean? For Green, it means writing stories that don’t really belong to him, the person, “it was like something I was selling or at the very least renting out in exchange for good press,” as he wrote in the book.


The Anthropocene Reviewed is Green’s first non-fiction book. While readers consider it an act of generosity—for the bestselling author to openly share parts of himself and fragments of his life for the first time—he actually felt the other way around when he published it.

This was his time to be selfish: “I wrote this for me.” 

“I wanted to do something different but that had the same heart in it. It’s more reflective of how I look at the world. It’s really scary to write something that personal and to share it, but it’s really been wonderful. ”

Here are some snippets from Fully Booked Chats: John Green with guest host Saab Magalona-Bacaro to convince you that while The Anthropocene Reviewed is unlike any of his previous books, it is still worth reading.

Hope, despair, then finding your way back to hope again

In The Anthropocene Reviewed, Green rates random things and occurrences on a 5-star scale like The Internet, Plagues, Sunsets, and even Canada Geese. While these may seem unconnected to one another, Green revealed that the topics are actually very personal and special to him.

“I tried to find places where my very small life runs into these really big forces, whether that’s capitalism, or climate change, or a comet. When my publisher and I were thinking about the journey of the book, the topics were very random. But hopefully as you read it, you are on a little bit of a journey from hope to despair and then back to hope.”

Green didn’t just explore a different kind of writing with this book, he also tried to find a way to break down the irony and cynicism that persist in modern society by being straightforward and honest but also trivial with each of the essays, “We need some irony. It’s a way to protect ourselves from being hurt, and I think that’s a very healthy thing.”

“But I also think there are times when we need to lay down that irony and just reckon honestly with beauty and pain and love. I try to do that in my novels and I also want to do that in The Anthropocene Reviewed,” Green shared.

Be vulnerable to pain and suffering

In several pieces, Green often brings to the forefront some of the difficulties he faced and is currently dealing with in life: living with mental illness and getting through the anxiety and stress brought upon by the pandemic, among others. This time, the weight he writes isn't fictional or imaginary. Ultimately, these stories—the good, bad, and in between—belonged to him. Learning to face vulnerability allowed John to be more open about sharing more personal stories.

“It’s really, really hard to make yourself vulnerable to the reality of experience. It’s an unfortunate reality. You want to protect yourself, you don’t want to crack open in front of people.”

While it wasn’t an easy task, the novelist became more present in the nuances of everyday life: about paying attention; about loving and being loved, because of one experience that changed the course of his life.

“Being a parent has changed my work so much. I don’t think I could’ve written The Fault in Our Stars if I had been a father because it changed the way I understand love. When Henry was born, I knew immediately, in a way that I’ve never understood before.

“I have to be vulnerable if I want to be able to love and be loved in ways that I want. My kids have taught me all that.”

...and embrace vulnerability to love and joy

But even though The Anthropocene Reviewed was written and published during the pandemic—an especially hard time filled with grief and loss—the author is hopeful that just as we are vulnerable to pain and suffering, we are also willing to face a different kind of vulnerability.

“We have long embraced this idea that we have to be miserable to write, or you have to be crazy, or an alcoholic, or have some terrible challenge in your time to write. We’ve embraced that idea, but the true idea is that you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable to joy,” said Green.

We might find ourselves on a rocky, tough road, but The Anthropocene Reviewed reminds us that joy and somehow, perfection, can be found in the mundane: a warm hug from a loved one, a freshly-brewed coffee, or even just staring at a clear sky with an expanse of dotted stars.

We just have to allow ourselves to see it. To experience it.

You can watch the full video of Fully Booked Chats: John Green with guest host Saab Magalona on the Fully Booked Facebook Page. Or if you prefer listening to podcasts, listen to this interview as an episode in Wake Up with Jim and Saab.

The signed copy of The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green is also available on Fully Booked Online. Free shipping is available for orders PHP 799 and above.

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