The Anthropocene is the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his groundbreaking podcast, bestselling author John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale—from the QWERTY keyboard and sunsets to Canada geese and Penguins of Madagascar.
John Green deviates from his regular fiction writing to bring us a collection of essays on the current geological age. I knew that this would be a collection of essays, but I have not listed to Green’s podcast, from which these essays are adapted, so I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect going in. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Green reviews everything from Super Mario Kart to Diet Dr Pepper to the world’s largest ball of paint. I expected many of the reviews to be informational content, yet Green infused each review with personal anecdotes and connections to his life and the larger world. The book, in many ways, reminds me of the YouTube vlogs he’s been doing with his brother Hank for many years. I used to watch every vlog, but their videos have since drifted out of my watch list, although not because they became less entertaining or diminished in quality. I simply got too busy to keep up with them.
John and Hank Green are powerhouses of information on odd facts and history lessons, spouting knowledge from anything science-y (Hank) to odd gardening facts and the history of the teddy bear (John). What I love most about these brothers, though, is their clear compassion and concern for the state of the world. Their earnestness in all things is contagious. For example, I found myself beginning to care about the history of Piggly Wiggly grocery chains when I had never heard of them previously. In fact, Green’s review made me want to go out and see if I could find one of the few remaining stores and visit, just to better picture what he described in his essay.
In the introduction to the collection, Green mentions the struggles of having a public life and how it leads many people to believe they know him on a personal level. He references the writer Allegra Goodman, who states that since she is a novelist, she has told her life story in code. Green empathizes with this but states, “For me, it had started to feel like some people thought they knew the code.” Green realizes that he would rather not write in code anymore. Although I am guilty of claiming to have cracked the code on some of his writing (just look back through some of my previous reviews and you’ll see evidence of this), I also understand where he is coming from and wish fiction didn’t have to be so closely tied to the author’s own life, but that habit of coding your own work is a part of the job. Many authors, and many readers, recognize it, which is why people assume John Green shares the worldview of the protagonist of his book, for example. Nevertheless, it is important to discuss it, if only to remind readers and authors that we are guilty of this, and that comparisons are not always accurate, even if similarities do exist between an author and his or her characters.
Green covers many different topics in his collection, but more so than the knowledge I gained about odd wonders of the modern world, I am grateful for the chance to get to know Green a little better, to have the opportunity to learn about his struggles with mental health, his time as a book reviewer, and his experience as an author. The Anthropocene Reviewed is part memoir and part bearing witness to the world as it is and the trajectory on which we are headed. It is not a riveting read; rather, it is a book that is meant to be consumed slowly, sitting in your favorite chair each evening, sipping your tea or coffee, taking frequent pauses to contemplate, well, the meaning of life and your role in it, whether that’s through debating the point of whispering or learning that Monopoly was invented by a woman even though it is credited as being invented by a man, and what these small revelations mean.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Dutton, May 18, 2021, 293 pages
CATEGORIES: nonfiction, essay collection/memoir