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The Anthropocene Reviewed Reviewed
A review of
John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed
New York Times best-selling author John Green’s latest podcast-esque book The Anthropocene Reviewed (Penguin, 2021) is the perfect escape from the droning ordinariness of reality. In this collection of short essays, Green romanticizes the mundane aspects of human existence and puts hardships into perspective. If the “anthropocene” is the geologic era during which humans have had the most impact on the planet, encompassing the whole of human happiness and pain, then Green’s optimistic “nothing truly matters” perspective which colors every essay complements his affinity for focusing on incidental artifacts of everyday life as a means to better understand human experience. With chapters such as “Diet Dr. Pepper,” “Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Stickers,” and “Canada Geese,” Green’s collection unravels prosaic gadgets and phenomena into their histories, accompanied by personal reflections and whimsical discussions.
Green is famous for novels such as Looking for Alaska and Turtles All the Way Down, both of which incorporate Green’s own mental health struggles with severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. The Anthropocene Reviewed, however, features Green’s voice directly, without disguising his thoughts and views behind characters and plot. He admits this in the book’s introductory chapter, discussing how fans struggle to separate him from the protagonists of his novels.
“Talking so much about myself in the context of fiction became exhausting for me, and a little destabilizing,” he reflects. “I realized I didn’t want to write in code anymore.”
In The Anthropocene Reviewed, Green leaves behind the conventions of writing fiction and often seems more like a series of quirky, occasionally earnest, TED talks. While the written copy of the book does a spectacular job at relaying this connection, the audio book offers an unforeseen intimacy. Green is an avid podcaster, and his performance in the audio version creates an almost confidential experience which allows the listener to penetrate deeper into his mind as he struggles with his mental health in the context of the pandemic.
Nuanced by his disconnection from society during the lockdowns of 2020, the chapters of this book feel deeply poetic, as if dredged from the bottom of Green’s soul. The writing style reflects a change of personhood as he delves into discussions of, for instance, sunsets and cave paintings. In particular, the chapter entitled “Googling Strangers” discusses Green’s experience as a student chaplain in his early 20s, and the traumatic experience that steered him from this profession.
Where these short essays begin—with ordinary, sometimes eccentric, items and ideas—is merely a launch pad for the raw content and life advice within, closely following tropes of failure and death. For instance, in discussing his attempted suicide after a failed college relationship, Green later reflects on his marriage citing the value of “third things”—objects that draw the intersection of his and his partner’s gaze: art and their children. Though not much of the advice in this book is as explicit, Green’s self-awareness forms a scaffold for personal discovery, allowing his audience to follow his example of finding deeper meaning in any pain they might be experiencing.
If The Anthropocene Reviewed does stir vulnerable self-discovery in its readers, it certainly provides a welcome escape from the gloomy repetition of life, breathing new energy into forgotten objects that surround us. I have listened to it twice, and the collection continues to have such an impact on me that, thus far, I have refused to listen to the final chapter so I don’t have to officially finish it. Perhaps it’s time I did….and started listening to “The Anthropocene Reviewed” podcast itself, where John Green continues to produce new episodes at: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/anthropocene-reviewed
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