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Author John Green speaks about his book "The Fault in Our Stars" at the BookExpo America (BEA) 2012 Children's Book & Author Breakfast. Recorded June 6, 2012; New York, NY

Chris Colfer: Our next speaker I'd like to present is the Our Fault in Stars, er, The Fault in Stars, excuse me, whoa, big, big, big bummer, uh, The Fault in Our Stars, he's a New York Times Bestselling author, one of the greatest books on shelves today, mine included, and he has an incredible following on Twitter, which I discovered, and basically he is the Justin Bieber of the literary world.  (Applause)  Please welcome the extraordinary John Green.

(More applause)

John Green: Hi.  Um, I wanna thank you all for being here today, um, and I wanna thank everyone involved in this honor, I wanna thank my publisher, Penguin, and thank you for that lovely introduction, Chris, um, so, a few weeks ago, I searched Tumblr among my followers for your tag, um, because I th--I had this idea that I was gonna find a really funny note that one of my readers wrote about Chris and that I could read it out loud in front of him and embarrass him as he just did with me.  But what I found instead was um, uh, fanfiction, uh, about, about us.  

(Massive outburst of laughter)

And so I just, I mean, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that , like, in case you Google yourself or whatever, that I did not write that, um, and that if you did, I'm flattered.  And you're a very good writer.  Um, it's a true story.   So uh, speaking of Tumblr, I guess that one of the reasons that I've been asked to speak today along with two of my favorite writers is that I'm like, good at the internet or whatever.  Uh, the video blogs that I make with my brother have been watched more than 250 million times and have spawned a large community of people who call themselves Nerdfighters, not--(applause) rare is the community of adults to whom I don't have to define the word 'nerdfighters', but I'll define it anyway.  Um, it's not people who fight nerds, obviously, um, it's people who fight for nerds, like freedom fighters, um, ostensibly fight for freedom, and uh, that community is a really strong, tight-knit community on the internet and they engage in activities that involve decreasing what they call 'worldsuck', um, which can come in the form of philanthropic efforts or critical reading or volunteerism, all kinds of things, I'm gonna talk about them later, but I wanna begin by talking about me.

So, um, in 2003, uh, I was living with my friend Hassan, who's Kuwaiti, and uh, a couple other people with a small apartment in Chicago, and we only had one television, and that's important because there was this war on TV when the United States invaded Iraq, and Hassan's family lived very close to the Iraqi border in Kuwait and he didn't hear from his family for six weeks and didn't know if they were okay, and his response to this traumatic moment was to spend 24 hours a day watching Fox News, watching coverage of the war, watching the invasion, watching its progression, trying to hear something about his village.  And uh, he never did, his family's fine, I should say, so that you don't worry while I'm telling the rest of the story.  But, it got--I mean, obviously, I had tremendous sympathy for Hassan, that's a difficult thing to go through, but it was also super annoying, because it was our only TV, um, and we would sometimes try to have interventions and be like, you know, can we just watch one episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S?  But he never would let us, so the only way to spend time with Hassan during those awful weeks was to sit and watch Fox News with him, and one day I was watching Fox News with him just after Baghdad had fallen, um, and they were talking--the guy on the news, it was one of those situations where the guy who's the newscaster is seeing footage for the first time and you're also seeing that same footage for the first time, but because he has a microphone, he is an expert in that footage, um, and he was talking all about the anger on the Arab street and the fury in the hearts of the Iraqi people and whatever, whatever, whatever, and the camera panned across this, this house that had a huge hole in it that was clearly from a bomb that had been plywooded over with this particle board, and on that particle board in this angry looking Arabic script was scrawled graffiti in black spray paint, and Hassan started to laugh, and I said 'What's so funny?' and he said, "The graffiti" and I said, "What's funny about it?"  He said, "It says 'Happy Birthday, Sir, despite the circumstances'."

So, I'm gonna come back to that in a second, but one of the difficulties of being a person is that it's really hard to remember that other people have birthdays.  This is true when it comes to like, remembering your wife's birthday, it's also true when it comes to remembering that it's possible that angry looking Arabic graffiti just after the fall of Baghdad is about someone's birthday.  Another thing that you should know about me is that, until I was about 10, I believed that I was the only human being alive on the planet and the rest of you were complicated alien constructs who'd been--and that I was part of this experiment of testing a human child in a world full of aliens and there was this tightly controlled experiment, and I believed this, unfortunately, I mean, this is terribly embarrassing to say, because of course it (?~6:34) a life of tremendous narcissism, um, but I really believed this.  I believed that you had extremely advanced costuming technologies and that when I left the room, you would take off your human bodies and your alien bodies would be revealed and this extended to my mother and my father and most of all, my younger brother, who seemed extremely alien to me.  And uh, at some point, though, I did come to believe, and I believe now, that you are human, um, and that you are just as human as I am, and that your joy is probably just as joyous as mine, that your pain is probably just as painful as mine, and what took me there?  Angry Birds.  No, it was stories.  Stories.  It was not Angry Birds.  

It was books.  Because for me, stories were the way out of that narcissism, they were the way out--they were the way into believing that other people were really real in the same way that I was real, because I have no outside evidence of that, but encountering, in stories, the real lives of other people allowed me to be inside of their heads in a way that I can never be instead the head of any real person, even a real person I care about very, very much, like, the thing about books is that because they are composed out of text, because there is this act of translation that one has to do when reading, because I have to turn these meaningless scratches on a page into ideas that exist inside my head, I become the co-creator of this story when I read the story, in a way that I don't become the co-creator of any other kind of medium, which is precisely why reading takes concentration, and it takes focus, and it is a--it is an activity that you can't do while you do other things.  It's a very unpopular kind of activity these days.  But it was through--it was through stories that--and through people like Scout Finch and (?~8:41) and Holden Caulfield that I came to understand that other people were really real, and those people being real by extension made you real.  

That revelation is the key, I think, to human empathy and in turn, to our ability to, to kind of be good to each other, to try to honor the people that came before us, to try to preserve the people who will come after us, because if we believe in their reality and their importance, then we understand that we have a responsibility to them and not just to ourselves.  And that, I think, is how ultimately, you come to understand that people who live very different lives from yours also have birthdays.  

There's a lot of talk these days in publishing about um, apps and enhanced ebooks and the capital F future of publishing, but I wanna submit to you, as someone who is supposedly good at the internet, that I don't believe that we--what we do best needs or even necessarily benefits from so-called enhancement.  Here is what we are good at, in my opinion.  We are good at giving people rich and intense narrative experiences.  We are good at creating immersive experiences.  And I'm not sure if that would be better if you could hear Jo singing in Gathering Blue or you could watch a video of (?~10:05) pitching in (?~10:08), or you could click here to find out why I chose to set parts of The Fault in Our Stars in Amsterdam, I think in the end, those enhancements would only prove to be distractions, and I don't think that what we do best is imitate the people who do other media popularly.

I think what we do best, and I think the reason that books are still relevant, the reason that this room is full, the reason that the (?~10:32) Center is like, crazy uncomfortably crowded is because we are good at this.  We have already figured out how to do something that is very useful and very important, and in all the talk of the future of publishing, let's not forget that.  Let's not forget that--let's not forget that for quite a long time, we've been figuring out good ways to write stories down in a way that can give readers a new life, a new way into empathy, a new way to believe in the reality of the other, and I do believe that someday soon, somebody will create some multimedia text-based narrative that lights the app store on fire, but I don't think that it will succeed because it has a lot of bells and whistles or social media integration or whatever, I think it will succeed because of its story.  I believe that story trumps everything.  And I think that online experiences--thanks--thanks--well, to be fair, it's like being in a room full of elephants as an elephant talking about how great elephants are, but yes.  Thanks.

 I think online experiences are really good at connecting us, but that those connections don't always run very deep, like, when I'm browsing Twitter or Tumblr, the key that I used to use most on my keyboard was the space-bar and the key that I use most when I am browsing the internet is the down key, because I am always looking for what's next.  When I'm looking at Twitter or Tumblr, on some level, I'm not reading, I'm scanning, alright?  You don't have that deep, immersive relationship with the text.  It doesn't take you to that place where nothing else in the world is happening.  It takes you to a place where lots of other things can happen, and in some ways, the reason that my brother and I started making videos in 2007 was as a reaction to that.  

We wanted to try to use the internet to create an experience that would foster real community that could make real changes that could have the sort of depth of relationships that we saw--that we weren't seeing enough of in online communities, and I'm very--I'm very proud of the relationships that have been built in that community, I'm very proud of the things that Nerdfighters have done together.  They're one of the largest Kiva groups, they've donated--or, lent--more than $700,000 to entrepreneurs in the developing world, they--every summer, we read a classic American novel, Gatsby or--AH!  Sorry!--or Catcher in the Rye together and it's such a pleasure to have tens of thousands of teenagers reading critically uh, with us in the summer when they don't have to, and I believe in that stuff, but I also understand that the internet is primarily about like, watercolors of Doctor Who making out with Sherlock, and like, and we have--that is the world in which we live, but the--that should not keep us from going there to make our case for our kind of media.  

Okay, so I don't think that we need to become something that you look at while you do other things.  I don't think we need to become Twitter or Tumblr, and God knows I don't think we need to become Angry Birds.  I can take a break from creating a PowerPoint and glance at Twitter, I can play Angry Birds for 20 seconds while I'm waiting for lunch, but that is not how I read a book.  

Reading is quiet and contemplative and immersive and that's why I like it, and that's why it matters, and that's how we're going to compete, is by being the thing that we're great at, and I really believe as both a writer who has spent his writing life writing away from the person I am, my first novel, Looking for Alaska, was about a kid who went to a boarding school in Alabama and memorizes the last words of famous people, and I myself am a kid who went to a boarding school in Alabama and memorizes the last words of famous people, my new novel is about a 16 year old girl with stage-4 thyroid cancer of which I qualify, thank God, in none of those categories, um, particularly the 16 year old part.  (Shivers)  Sorry, 16 year olds, but I don't wanna be you ever again.  

I think that that is the gift that both reading and writing can give us, is the gift of escaping the prison of ourselves.  That's not a gift that Angry Birds can give us, and the gift that you as booksellers give us is the opportunity into those worlds that will create better lives for people.  I believe that books will survive and thrive and grow in this media-drenched universe, precisely because we are different, yes, it is true that a good book asks more of you than Angry Birds, but books also offer much more in return, and that's why we're going to keep going to bookstores and that's why we're going to keep reading books.  We aren't going to be Angry Birds.  I guess that's the bad news.  But that's also the good news.  Thank you.