Book of the week: ‘The Anthropocene Reviewed’ opens a window into John Green’s life

Ashley Pelletier, Podcast Editor

If there’s a staple in the Chronicle’s arts & life section, it’s the review. Movies, albums, TV shows, you name it, but why stop there? Why not review everything worth reviewing in life? That’s exactly what award-winning author John Green does in his nonfiction essay collection, “The Anthropocene Reviewed.” 

In “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” Green reviews everything from Diet Dr. Pepper to Disney World on a five-star rating scale. Through each essay, Green weaves tales and anecdotes from his life and connects them to the Anthropocene, the geologic time period where humanity has the largest influence on the planet, as described by Green. 

Nonfiction has never been my genre of choice. I’d almost always rather pick up a copy of “Twilight” than read a book titled after a geologic period, but I’ve followed Green for almost half of my life, so I picked “The Anthropocene Reviewed” up anyways. 

Like many works of art that have come out in the past two years, “The Anthropocene Reviewed” is largely connected to Green’s experience through the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the essays details a picture Green has in his house taken a few months before COVID-19 shutdowns and how he perceives that picture in a different light because of how blind to the future he and the other subjects were. 

Several essays also discuss Green’s ongoing struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health struggles. While many great writers have faced mental health issues, we often forget that those we deem successful can experience them. Success does not preclude suffering.

Green opened a window into his life that few get to see. The author’s fans get weekly doses of him and his brother, Hank Green, through their YouTube channel, vlogbrothers, their podcast, “Dear Hank and John,” Crash Course and his five other bestselling novels.

Of course, it is impossible for us to claim we know John Green when the content that he edits and chooses to put out into the world is the basis for that knowledge. That is the beauty and apathy of opening yourself up to a parasocial relationship with that vague human on the other side of the book, video or podcast — you feel as though the creator is someone you understand, even care about, but they are reduced to what they share with their audience. 

I was first introduced to John Green through his novels “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking For Alaska.” I have consumed hours of his and Hank Green’s content on YouTube and I even have a T-shirt with his mustached-face and the word “pizza” on it. Despite all of this, he didn’t feel like a person to me. 

“The Anthropocene Reviewed” peeled back some of the parasocial layers I’ve had John Green wrapped in for the past 10 years. Reading about a man who I felt lived in this whole different world from me writing his own book reviews and having an ongoing feud with the groundhog living under his shed connected me to him in a way years of consuming his other content didn’t. 

I still don’t know John Green. I know he drinks Diet Dr Pepper as a small rebellion and that he has a strong love for Indianapolis, but I don’t have the full picture. Of course, we never have the full picture of anybody, even the people closest to us, but for one small moment, I felt connected to John Green. 

In the spirit of “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” I give the book four out of five stars.