Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of spending an evening in the company of John and Hank Green. The Royal Concert Hall was sold out: who knew there were so many Nerdfighters in Glasgow? I haven’t attended many literary events before so joining an audience who had gathered together for the sole purpose of celebrating a book was an amazing experience. The audience truly felt like an enthusiastic, inclusive community.
John started his talk by outlining what the term Nerdfighter means to him, and stated the intention of the Vlogbrothers channel and their related projects, such as Crash Course Literature and Crash Course World History, to create intellectual spaces on the internet which promote engagement, rather than distraction.
An audience member asked John whether books remained a relevant medium in the 21st century. His answer was, of course, a resounding yes. Reading, he said, is one of the few pursuits in the modern world that requires you to sit quietly and concentrate. This relates to the driving idea behind the Vlogbrother’s online projects: to enable their audience to truly engage with the work they produce. It has become increasingly difficult to sit quietly and focus on anything, when the internet provides, at the touch of a key, a whole world of noise and colour. As our ability to engage with anything in a meaningful way is threatened by the myriad distractions provided online, this very difficulty makes the process of reading so much more valuable. John also discussed why fiction in particular is so important. Fictional truths can in many ways be much more powerful and moving than reality, and are certainly more meaningful than the version of ‘reality’ offered to us in the guise of reality TV. Fictional truths are the subject of the foreword to The Fault in Our Stars:
Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
John also talked about his own experience of studying literature in school. He described an experience which felt familiar to me, and must be the common experience of many high school students. Books felt like something that happened to other people, somewhere else. It wasn’t until late in his school experience that John studied contemporary, living authors, and realised that books existed as part of a continuum. He provided an apt summation of this realisation:
Books aren’t just something that happen to dead white guys.
By founding a vibrant community of readers, John has definitely verified the truth of this statement.