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John Green discusses his newest book, The Fault in Our Stars, and issues of censorship at the Freedom to Read Foundation's Banned Author Event during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX. January 22, 2012. For more information on FTRF visit www.ftrf.org
Kent: I'm very gratified you came out to hear me speak this evening, so thank you.  (Applause) My name is Kent Oliver, and I am the president of the Freedom to Read Foundation.  I'm so glad to hear that, (?~0:41).  We were founded in 1969, and we are what is considered to be the legal defense arm of the American Library Association, and the membership in our foundation includes not just librarians but also authors, publishers, booksellers, attorneys, and people from all walks of life who are interested in defending the first amendment, and some of the litigation or court cases that we've been involved with lately include things that are as diverse as the children's internet--pardon me, the Children's Internet Protection Act, children's access to video games, the Patriot Act, trying to get a Patriot Act repeal.  Internet filtering in schools and censorship issues, censorship issues involving all types of libraries.  Okay, and we are particularly grateful to Penguin Young Readers Press this evening for making this (?~1:52).  The one thing all the cases that I mentioned have in common is that they are about access to information, information that all of you should have available to you on a daily basis as you go about choosing the books that you wish to read.  If you think that the first amendment and access to information is important, we would invite you to join the Freedom to Read Foundation.  There's more information about the Foundation in this booklet.  The Adult Basic Membership is $35, and the student rate is $10, and I think we have a lot of students in here.  But enough about me and the Foundation.  We're excited to have our teen author with us tonight, John Green.  Of course, you all know that he is the bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and the forthcoming The Fault in Our Stars.  I just received word before we began tonight that The Fault in Our Stars is #1 on the bestseller list.  His books have been banned or censored or there have been attempts to do that in school libraries, it makes it incredibly appropriate that he is our speaker this evening.  (?~3:33) that you did not know, he is from Indianapolis and he used to be on the staff of the American Library Assocation.  Come on out, John.

(3:52) John: Hi. So, for those of y'all who are here to like, hear me tell jokes about the nerdfighting, I apologize in advance for how incredibly disappointed you're going to be over the course of the next 40 minutes.  I have been brought here to talk to you about censorship, so that's what I'm going to talk about.  Also, I want--there will be time for questions, not about like, puppy sized elephants or--but about writing and the Freedom to Read and the importance of it.  I also want to apologize in advance if I don't--I have a very--relatively limited amount of time after this to--with which to sign, so I apologize if I don't sign something that you wished I had.  But I will remind you that I specifically said on Tumblr that I would not sign anything, so this is better than what I promised you. 

I feel a little bit like an elephant that has been asked to speak to a group of elephants on the subject of why killing elephants is a bad idea.  But I'm going to plow through and do my best.  See, it's pretty obvious to me that the freedom to read is important, that's why I'm here tonight and I want to thank all of you for donating to the Freedom to Read Foundation, this is such an important organization, the work that they do is absolutely vital and I used to work down the hall from some of these people and I'll always admire them and I still do, and so thanks to them. They do the hard work to support libraries and authors whenever books are banned.  That is hard and often very annoying work and they do it with great courage, and they are absolutely indefatigable, which is important, because so are the people who would ban books. 

I'm going to talk a little bit about my own story of how I came to be a banned author and what I think about it, and then I'll take some of your questions. So, I was working at Booklist Magazine at the American Library Association for five years, working very closely with a lot of editors and writers there, but not as an editor myself, I was initially an assistant and then I became a production editor, like laying out magazines, doing some of the database management, that kind of stuff, and all that time I was writing a novel and I was writing with the help of my mentor and dear friend Ilene Cooper, who eventually, when I finished the book, I handed it in, I gave it to her, and I said, "Read this. I hope you like it." And she read it and she was like, "Eh. Has some potential, but it needs a lot of work."  And she wrote me a very nice long letter about the things that I could do differently to make it less bad, and I did a lot of those things, and then eventually, after about another year or revision with working very closely with Ilene, I sent the book in to a publisher and it was like, agreed that they would publish the book, and my editor Julie Strauss-Gabel came into my life, she's here tonight. 

And in that process over the next year and a half, we--or two years, three years?  How long was Julie...it was a long time.  It felt like forever.  I was like, I just want to have a book out so that I can, you know, be an author.  And Julie was like, "Patience, grasshopper, this is gonna be within you for a long time, so maybe you should try to make it good."  I did not realize the wisdom of that advice as much--as well as I do now seven years after Looking for Alaska's publication. 

So, finally, we had a finished book, and there were many, many drafts of Looking for Alaska, there were many, many revisions, I probably wrote, you know, many hundreds of thousands of words on the course of writing that 60,000 word novel, and most of the stuff that people like about the book came out in revision, in the process of rewriting it with Ilene and Julie. 

One thing that was in the book almost from the very beginning was a scene that I had no idea would ever become controversial, but I'm just gonna--it's awkward, but I have to describe it to you, because there's no other way that we can have this speech.  So I got a third of the way through the book, one of the--the narrator of the book is dating-ish this girl and they have a aggressively unerotic, very explicit, very clinically described sexual encounter.  It's extremely explicit, it's extremely clinical, it's like the way that you would describe--it's like the way that my father-in-law talks about performing surgery.  That's what it's like.  I wanted to use extremely clinical adjectives and very clear language so that there would be nothing flowery or romantic or sweet or titillating about it, so that a) it would be funny and so that b) it would contrast the very next scene in the book which is much less sexually explicit, it shows two characters kissing, but it is so much more intense and romantic and exciting and fun, because the obvious takeaway there is that sort of sexual counters that are physically serious but emotionally vapid are extremely unfulfilling, like, not only are they not like, healthy to the moral fiber of America, but putting that aside, they're just not fun, right?  And they don't feel good, they don't make you happy, they don't, like, they don't fill up whatever void exists inside of you. And that was the ob--like, to me, extremely obvious thing. So from the very beginning, that scene was in the book and then the next scene with the very, very flowery, (?~10:07) some would say too flowery language, in which Miles and Alaska are kissing. And it was very important to me that those two things be contrasted for that very reason.  I thought that it was pretty, like, obvious, some would say painfully obvious, and the other thing to know about Looking for Alaska is that--and I should say that no one ever said a word about this, Ilene never said a word about it, Julie never said a word about it, I think Julie wanted me to change a couple of words, because she knew exactly what I was doing and she wanted it to be more clinical and more sort of like, technically precise, but unerotic, and that was a really clever thing, like most of the things that Julie thinks up, and um, so I did that. Um, right. So.

The other thing to know about Looking for Alaska is that it's this novel about a kid named Miles who memorizes the words of famous people and goes to a boarding school because he is seeking what the dying Francois Rabelais called "The Great Perhaps."  And while he is there, he encounters this young woman, Alaska Young, with whom he falls in love, and she is obsessed with the last words of the South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar which were, "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?" They're both interested in understanding what Bolivar meant when he said "this labyrinth" which labyrinth he was referring to and also whether and how one might get out of it. 

So I wrote this book, I mean, without being like, aggressively theological, because I'm not and also it would be boring and controversial and I'd like to save my controversial moments for later in the speech, I was a hospital chaplain before I became a novelist.  I attend church, I wrote this novel, and many people laugh when I say this, but it's true, as Christian fiction.  I thought that it was Christian fiction, because the core idea of Christianity as I understand it is this weird very controversial argument called "radical hope", which is that hope is available to all people at all times and that hope is not contingent upon being alive, and hope is also not contingent upon being good.  Now, I'm not sure that I believe that, I'm certainly not sure that other people ought to believe, but I thought that was pretty obviously the argument of the novel, particularly because it says that over and over and over. 

So, here I am, 27 years old, go to church every Sunday, and I think that I have written a Christian fiction novel, and it is published, and it receives very nice reviews, none of which mention that it is Christian fiction, and it is read by many lovely people, none of whom mention that it is Christian fiction, and what became obvious to me eventually is that my books don't belong to me after I finish writing them.  They belong to you.  And so I didn't write a book of Christian fiction.  I tried to, but I failed.  And that's okay, because lots of people liked the book, which is fantastic, and that's what matters, ultimately.  Books belong to their readers, and if the reader of the book can find something useful in it, then that is a great blessing to me as a writer, and--but the book truly belongs to you. 

That's what makes, I think, this art--this whole thing so complicated, because I'm not one of these people who thinks that it's easy or simple and that we should just say like, censorship is bad and the freedom to read is good.  Like, for example, in high school English curricula, there are books that I don't think should be taught in English classes.  Like, for instance, I do think that you should read and talk about The Great Gatsby in English, I don't think that you should read and talk about Penthouse Magazine in your English classes.  Like, it contains words, you know, it has sentences, but I don't think it is a useful curricular thing, and if there is an English teacher who is teaching Penthouse Magazine in his/her like, senior AP English class exclusively, you know, like maybe if they're also teaching Gatsby, we could have a conversation, but like, if they're teaching nothing but back issues of Penthouse over the course of the entire year, I'm going to make the bold statement that I think that that person is not doing a good job, and that, in fact, perhaps we should consider banning Penthouse Magazine from the English curriculum of that high school.

So I think it's complicated.  There is a line somewhere, right?  So, I'll get back to that.  So, I wrote this book, and all of these amazing things start to happen that I never imagined happening, it's published in all of these different languages, and all of a sudden, it's being taught in high schools in English classes, which is ridiculous, and it's being taught in college English classes and it's in libraries all over the place, and then, people start to say that this book should be taken out of libraries because it has this blowjob scene in it.  And I'm like, but that scene is arguing against--it's really obvious!  Did you read the scene?  It's super obvious what I'm saying, like, it's like this really old fashion, almost like painfully old fashioned moral of that story, so like are you arguing--what are you arguing against?  Are you arguing against the existence of blowjobs or are you arguing the idea that this is something that has happened in human history or are you--so it was really--I couldn't understand it at all.  Because to me, from my perspective as the author of the book, I was just baffled, and more importantly, I was hurt, because here were all these people saying that I was, like, many of them saying that I was a pornographer, like, trying to peddle--one of them said, one of them frequently still years later uses the phrase, "porn peddler."  And to this guy, it is the equivalent of Penthouse Magazine being taught in a high school English class and this is deeply offensive to him and he thinks that it should be removed.  I think that he is crazy.  How would we decide how to settle this? 

So this happened in an interesting way in 2008, when my book was being taught in a high school English class by two young English teachers who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, because like me, they read this book and thought, "oh, there's this really unerotic blowjob scene and it's a really interesting novel and we could pair it with Catcher in the Rye or A Separate Peace" and so they taught it and they got in all of this trouble because of this one scene.  The parents who were upset about the scene didn't have kids in the class in question, but they had kids, you know, in other classes.  And then there was this huge slew of support, thanks in part to the Freedom to Read Foundation, thanks in part to Judy Blume, thanks in part to lots of other people, and the people who were trying to ban the book were duly embarrassed and told to sit down and the book was taught, but the book wasn't taught again, because who wants to go through that, right?  There are lots--here is the truth.  There are lots of good books, like, I'm pretty fond of Looking for Alaska, but I am here to tell you that it is not one of the top 10 American novels.  There are lots of--well, you're wrong--there are lots of really, really great books that you can teach, so why teach one that's gonna cause a bunch of kerfuffle and paperwork and you're gonna have to go to school board meetings on evenings when you have something better to do.  So, and that's a totally legitimate question. 

So I have--I wanna kind of approach this from two angles.  The first is the reason why I think it's important to do this even though I don't think it's important to teach Looking for Alaska in high school English classes, I wanna make that absolutely clear, I think that it is important that teachers and librarians be trusted to make those decisions.  So public education--so this is a little bit different for like, private schools or private libraries or whatever, and we can maybe talk about that in the Q&A session, but public schools, it's really important to--for me, to--this is really, really important to me.  I believe very strongly that public education does not exist for the benefit of parents.  And I also believe really really strongly that public education does not exist for the benefit of children.  Public education exists for the benefit of the social order.  That's why even though I don't have a child in school, I pay taxes, because it's good for the social order. 

So I don't care what parents think.  At all.  I mean, this is the controversial part of my presentation, by the way.  Like, you don't like the way that your child is being educated?  I'm sorry, like, as a community, public edu--but, the fact is, education doesn't exist for you or even for your kid, it exists for me, so that I don't have a bunch of stupid people trying to ban social security when I'm old!  So the whole reason we have teachers and librarians in the first place is because we got together as a community and we realized that we weren't qualified to make these decisions, so we should train some people to be qualified to make those decisions on our behalfs.  Those people are called teachers and librarians, and if you trust them to do their jobs, then they will do their jobs, and if you don't think they're doing a good job of doing their jobs, then that's a separate discussion, but you can't go in and say teachers should not be allowed teach or librarians should not be allowed to curate a collection, because that is what we agreed as a community to hire them to do.  We didn't hire them to do anything else!  That's their whole thing!  So it's very frustrating to me when someone comes in and says oh, well, you need to take that particular book out of the library, whatever that book is.  Like, recently this happened to my friend Maureen Johnson, who wrote this extremely innocuous--I mean, I've read it like four times and I don't even know what it is that they're upset about--this book called The Bermudez Triangle, and it was removed from this--it's become one of those things like, when you Google, like, "What book should I try to get out of my library?", Maureen Johnson's book is like, top of the list, so people try to get it out of the library.  But, like, every single time that happens, I--they have my books in the library, and no one's asking them to remove them, and my books are infinitely dirtier than Maureen's, if the people in question read the books, they would, you know, be much more concerned about me than they are about Maureen.  So, it's really--the vital thing here is that we have already figured out a solution this problem.  We have already figured out a solution the Penthouse Magazine being a bad idea to be taught in American public schools problem, which is that we hire and train teachers to do that work well.  And if they're not doing that work well, we fire them.  And that's how it works, and it's a pretty effective system.  Now, you do get into a problem when you're in a community and they decide that you should be fired for not removing a book from your shelf, which does happen occasionally, Maureen and I both mentioned in the acknowledgments a librarian of Oklahoma who was literally fired for refusing to remove The Bermudez Triangle, which, I cannot overemphasize, I don't know what--I don't think it contains the word 'ass'. Um, you all should read it since it's so controversial. It's a good book. And that does happen. And that has to be- that to me is a call in a community to rethink your values. When you're firing your librarians for collecting, you don't have a problem with your librarian, you have a problem, generally at least, with your community. And you need to have a community- wide conversation about that. So what happened in Depew in this whole, in upstate New York, is that eventually when the next year came around these same teachers chose not to teach Looking for Alaska because they didn't want a kerfuffle. And I, I think that is- I don't blame them at all, because you know who else doesn't like kerfuffles? Me. It's super, super awkward, because these people who are mad at me are kind of my people. And I want to call them and be like, 'I just don't think you've read it', like, it's Christian fiction. And that sort of silent censorship, that happens because we all hate confrontation. We are busy- like, librarians and teachers are busy, underpaid professionals. They are working hard to do important work. Now when you have to add to that the incredibly difficult and boring and tedious work of having to fight challenges, of having to get organized, of having to go to school board meetings that are outside of work hours and not be paid for it, like it you add to your workload that, it's very unpleasant, right? And so it becomes, it becomes in some ways a test of wills. A test of like, who ultimately is, you know, has more time on their hands. And that's generally them.

You know, it's generally that they are better organized, and I hate us/them analogies, but the people who would remove books from schools and libraries, the people who think that it should be their choice what other--what other people and other peoples' kids read, generally are committed to it in a way that it's hard for us to be committed to it because we are tired and we want to go home and watch CSI and go to bed because tomorrow morning we have to get up and work hard at our jobs, and when we--but when we give in to that, it's not just that those who would control the ability of kids to get books win, it's that they win by default.  We end up in some ways becoming them.  We end up having, or at least displaying, their values and their priorities in the way that we collect and teach and read, and that is not acceptable to me, because it's vital to the health of intellectual discourse in America that we have this astonishing diversity of literature available to us, and one of the last great places that you can walk into and still see a lot of books written by a lot of people from a lot of different places and perspectives and worldviews and historical moments is the American public library. 

Now, if you take that away, you're left with us having lost something that is really core to our idea of ourselves, I mean, I really believe that libraries are core to the American idea.  Like, if you go, like I lived in Holland for two months, they have a very, very nice central library in Amsterdam, and I went there every day and I wrote--I walked past the red light district at 7:30 in the morning on my way to (?~26:41) the central library.  It's the weirdest time.  If you ever have the chance to go to Amsterdam, I really recommend early in the morning red light district.  It's really interesting people watching.  Not too early, because then like, it has to be like, late enough that it's not last night to some people, early enough that it's not today.  That--that--there's a window, and that's kinda, that's when I would walk to the library, and they have this beautiful and very expensive library, but they don't have the kind of libraries that we do that are everywhere and are open, at least, used to be, open always. 

But they are headed toward more libraries and we are headed toward fewer.  And that makes me very sad, because I think--when I think about what's core to the American idea, it seems to me that what's really, really core to it is the idea that all of our citizens, in fact all of the people in the United States at any time, should have the same information available to them, should have the same opportunity to learn, should have the same opportunity to discover this astonishingly diverse world of information that we have, and you can say that Google does that, but you are dead wrong, you're dead wrong in a lot of different ways, the #1 way that you're dead wrong is that I know a lot of people who work at Google, and they are keenly aware of how terrible they are at curating content, and they are very worried about it and they can't figure it out, because they don't have, like, you know, 30,000 librarians working for them.  But the #2 reason is that there is lots and lots of information that isn't and shouldn't and can't be free, and so that Google can't give you.  I mean, we'd like to think that Wikipedia can replace encyclopedias, and Wikipedia is an awesome, awesome resource, but there is a lot of information that you just can't get for free, because it was expensive to create and so it has to be charged for. 

I did a lot of research when I was writing The Fault in Our Stars about cancer, and very--relatively little meaningful information about cancer research can be had for free, unless you are connected somehow to a university library or your father-in-law is.  It was really interesting to go through that, to go through that process over the last five years of working on that book, because I saw again and again and again coming up against the limits of what you can find on your own when you don't have the resources available to you, you know, to buy databases.  And we will create two classes of people, two kinds of people. 

I'm launching this new YouTube show next week called CrashCourse, and I'm teaching world history.  You don't know if it's good yet.  I'm teaching 40 episodes of world history, like 9 or 10 minute videos apiece, and just like introductions to different parts of world history.  The first one is about the history of agriculture and how agriculture took over the world, it's really interesting to me, I'm a big like, nerd for that stuff, and one of the really interesting things that emerged from agriculture was that there was a surplus available to us for the first time, it didn't take a thousand calories of work to make a thousand calories of food, so instead of everyone being, like, hunters and gatherers, you could have people who had specific jobs, and that's when writing came to exist, because there could be scribes, there could be people who could learn that, and the moment writing came to exist, so did inequality, because there were two kinds of people immediately: People who could understand the information that was being shared and people who couldn't, and we are very, very lucky to live in a world where by and large, not exclusively, but the vast majority of people are able to understand information that's being shared.  But we move more and more toward a world where there will be two kinds of people: people who have access to all of the information, and people who don't, as we move more and more towards a world that doesn't celebrate the idea that's the core of the public library, which is that information, all of the information, will be available to the people, all of the people 

So that's why the freedom to read is so important to me, ultimately, and I want to thank you for coming, and I will now take your questions.  Are there any questions?  Yes.

Question: Okay, well, I was wondering, we all love libraries being people that like to read, but I was wondering how you as an author can appreciate them, when when someone reads your book, you don't make a profit?

John: Oh, how can I like libraries when I don't make a profit when someone reads my book?  Um. 

Question: Sorry.

John: I don't make much of a profit when someone buys it either.  Sorry.  Well.  I mean, that's a really interesting question, you're not going to find many authors who say anything other than "Please go to your local library."  It's a particularly interesting question in the context of piracy.  I hear this every single day from the people who download my books illegally, and there are many, many tens of thousands of them each year.  I hear every day, "I could go to the library and check it out."  And I'm like, "Yeah, but you didn't."  It's an important distinction.  I don't have control over how you read a novel, but I do have control over how the novel is distributed, because I own it, and I am okay with libraries being here, and I'm not okay with people stealing my books.  So, that's the answer to that question, which I know you didn't ask, and I know you've never stolen my books.  Thank you.  But um, to those of you, all the old people, you pirates out there torrenting, that--I mean, well, the reason I don't care--fir--the library did buy my book.  And the library bought my book and I was paid for that book that they bought and now, they're out there sharing that book, in many cases, in the cases of teen services librarians, sharing that book extremely aggressively, with new readers who love it who otherwise have absolutely no idea who I am.  Every day, I meet people who read my books in libraries and liked them and then bought them, but I'm also like, not just a capitalist, or I wouldn't be in the book writing business, and you know, the true answer is that I don't--what writers really want is readers.  And that's what matters most to us, that's how we measure success, not in dollars but in readers, so um, yeah.  Yes?

Question: How do you feel about--there was kind of a grassroots movement that was going on for a little while amongst teens to fight it internationally, bring Tiny's musical to life?  That's like the greatest musical never made. 

John: I agree.  I didn't make--I didn't have anything to do with that.  David, are you here?  David?  David?  No.  I heard he might be.  I was going to let David answer that question, because he wrote all of the music, or all the songs, I don't--I can't write songs.  I love it.  I have to answer that question very carefully because there's a camera on me, and people own--I have sold all kinds of rights to all kinds of my books to people and so, like, I'm not legally allowed to say in many cases, 'Oh, it's fine for you to go and make your musical' or 'It's fine for you to go and make a movie', so that would be an example of something that I couldn't say, is the answer to your question.  Yes?

Question: I have a question.  In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel and Augustus--

John: Don't--no spoilers! 

Question: Okay, no spoilers.

John: Is it in the first like, 30 pages?

Question: Um.  No, it's about their syntax. 

John: Oh.  Okay, that's fine.

Question: They have quite a interesting and different syntax and choice of words than I guess most teenagers and most people that I come across in everyday life. 

John: Yeah.

Question: I wondered, as an author, how do you choose those words and how long does it take you to find that one word that really just fits better than the rest?

John: So Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars don't sound very much like a lot of teenagers and also--and how do I choose the words and dialogue and stuff.  Um, well, I mean there are hyper-intellectual teenagers and there are--and it's really important to me to acknowledge that, I know that most teenagers and I'm not, I mean, I don't talk like that, but there are people who do, varying degree of annoying, but there are people who talk like that, and who have very expensive vocabularies and use them with great facility.  But, and part of what I want to do is celebrate that intellectualism and celebrate that wit and the ability that we have as humans to use language in a way that's almost sort of reverent, to use language in a way that shows respect for the language, which is something that, you know, in daily conversation, we often don't do, like, when I just said 'you know'.  But I also--I mean, I also try to cut it in--you know, Hazel says "Or whatever" all the time, and one of the reasons that she says "Or whatever" is because she's almost sort of embarrassed by the way that she talks, she's almost sort of--yeah, she's embarrassed but you know, she doesn't want to be showy about it.  Gus does.  And that was important to me, you know, that she's always cutting her--she's always cutting her eloquence and he never is, and he, you know, in many cases has literally memorized soliloquies to deliver to her, and she's, you know, and that's not--that turns out not to be the most interesting person that he can be, that was another important thing to me.  But you know, the other answer to that question is that this is a controversial argument, and I might be wrong, I often am, but I believe that what I'm more interested in doing is reflecting the way that teens experience themselves talking rather than the actual words that they use.  If you write down any actual human conversation, it will sound nothing like a novel, because there's almost never a sentence, and a really good example of this--and, I'm gonna say this as politely and not politically as I can, but a really good example of this is when an outsider politician becomes--suddenly becomes a national figure, and they haven't had years and years to learn how to speak in soundbites that read in a newspaper article like a sentence, so when you ask President Clinton a question, he answers you in a way that he is imagining appearing in the newspaper or that he is imagining appearing in a sound clip on CNN.  But when Governor Palin was running for Vice President, this is not in any way a dig on Sarah Palin, there are many digs to be had, but this is not one of them, when you--when she answered a question, she almost never spoke a sentence, and so, the newspapers would write these quotes that would be like, 400 words long and they wouldn't know where to put commas or--because she was talking like a normal person, and that's the truth, like, you could understand, like, if you watch the interview, you wouldn't have thought that there was anything weird, well, a couple times you would, but (?~39:02) necessary, it's just that she didn't know how to like, say, you know, 'Libya is bad,' or whatever, so that to me is the real thing.  I'm trying to reflect the way that we experience each others' conversations, not necessarily the actual words that we use.  Couple more questions, yes.

Question: So, when you wrote Looking for Alaska, you weren't thinking of the controversy that would occur because of the scene, but when you have written since then, is that in the back of your mind, (?~39:36)

John: That's a really interesting question.  I mean, the only way I can answer honestly is that I--I hope it isn't, but I have no way of knowing otherwise, because I can't stop being aware of it.  But certainly, it didn't make me shy away from writing about sexuality in The Fault in Our Stars, even though, you know, this is a book that otherwise would have "no controversial content", a phrase I hate, because I wanted it to be in the book, and it was important to me, and I thought that it was--I thought that it would be important, so I hope I don't, but it's difficult to say, and certainly, I mean, I now know what I'm getting into in a way that I didn't then, which I had no idea, it never crossed my mind that it would be an issue.  I know that's kind of astonishing, but it's true.  Yes.

Question: How do you feel about fanfiction about your books?

John: How do I feel about fanfiction about my books?  Um, well, I mean, I certainly don't think it's, like, a copyright issue or anything, like I said, books belong to their readers, if you like, go and make several million dollars from writing about my characters, then we probably should have a conversation, but, you know, if it's something that you do and attribute the characters to me and my books, then I quite like it, and I read--I mean, I'm embarrassed to say this (?~40:55) narcissistic, but I do read fanfiction of my books.  Yeah.

Question: How do you say--you said that the book becomes the reader's after it's published or whatever, how do you take people that were calling Hazel like, Hazel Grace--

John: Uh, dup, dup, oh, oh, that's too much of a spoiler, I know what you're gonna say.  That's too much of a spoiler, but I mean, I get--

Question: Ok, I wasn't going to finish it. 

John: Okay.  Umm, I'm trying to figure out how to answer that without spoiling it.  It's not a bad spoiler, don't worry, it's just like a personal thing.  Oh, I mean, I thought that response of readers was very sweet, and it made me tear up, but the books belong to them, so they can do whatever they want.  Yes.

Question: So you said how books belong to their readers and all that.  So, hold on, okay, so there are varying forms--art forms, and books are one  of them.  Do you--what is your opinion on what qualifies as an art form that can and should have that copyright boundary as opposed to something--

John: Well, I mean, I think that books should have that copyright boundary.  The question was about like, other forms, like, where does that copyright boundary live, and that's a really interesting and difficult and complicated question that I'm not going to answer effectively 'cause I'm not an IP Attorney.  Although, to be fair, they wouldn't answer it effectively either.  I mean, I believe that the copyright of my books belongs to me, you know, the story that you create in your mind when you read it belongs to you, but that doesn't give you the right to like, you know, publish your own edition of it and sell it in Slovakia or something.  That said, I think that's true for basically all intellectual property, but you know, when a movie comes out and the movie is terrible and everyone is like, this movie is terrible and the director is like, no it's not, I'm always like, it by definition is, you know?  That's the definition of bad movies, everyone not liking it.  Yes.

Question: Well, a lot of nerdfighters have realized that when you read the first chapter on YouTube, Hazel was slightly younger, has anyone else (?~43:12) about that?

John: Hazel was slightly younger.  Well, she was actually the same age, I just made a mistake.  So here's an annoying fact that  (?~43:20) discovered together.  When you are in your 16th year, you are 15, and when you are in your 17th year, you are 16, because when you are in your 1st year, you are 0.  So it's super confusing because the first line of the book is like, "Late in the winter of my 17th year", that makes you think that she's 17, 'cause it used to be "Late in the winter of my 16th year", because any normal person including me and Julie would think that that means she is 16, but then I posted that to YouTube, a thousand grammarians descended upon me like a plague of locusts and Julie and I had probably a 45 minute conversation where we were like, "Do we appease the grammarians or do we just say the thing that everyone else normally says?" and we decided to appease the grammarians, because language is sacred and blah blah blah.  So it's right in the book, technically, but it's confusing, so you know, who knows which one's better.  I have time for perhaps two more questions.  I apologize if I don't get to your question.  Yes.  All the way in the back.

Question: Hi!  I was wondering what role you think that these exuberant young people can play in advocating for the books that they want to stay on their library shelves? (?~44:44)

John: Yeah, I mean well there's two things. One of the big issues that we have is how to get the word out about a challenge to scare the crap out of the people who are challenging it and make it go away before it becomes a thing, um, and that is a big challenge. Um, the number one way to do that I think is to reach out to the author because these days at least not all authors but a lot of them have extraordinarily different relationships with their readers than you or I had with the authors that we liked when we were teenagers. I'm assuming you're not a teen, I can't see you very clearly. 

Audience member: I'm not.  I'm 28.

John: Okay.  So, right, so when we were teenagers, there was a somewhat different relationship that one had with the authors that they liked, but now there's a very easy way to get in touch with people.  The other thing is, I, you know, the ALA is pretty good at finding ways to reach out to teenagers and local Facebook groups, I mean, specifically if you're looking for our community, generally pretty hardcore anti-censorship folks, there are local like, nerdfighter community groups in every single city on Facebook.  And they all have like, hundreds of members, and they're terrifying, so.  That's a good resource.  Yes.

Question: I just really need to know, which syllable do I emphasize when I'm reading Hazel Grace Lancaster, is it Lancaster or Lancaster? 

John: Well, the question is, what syllable do you emphasize when you're reading the character--the narrator's name Hazel Grace.  I'm not going to say her last name because the answer to your question is that books belong to their readers.  My opinion on that topic is no more important or privileged than your opinion.  Yes.

Question: I am an AP English teacher who's not teaching Penthouse.

John: Oh good.

Questioner: As far as my parents are concerned, (?~46:45) teaching The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

John: Really?

Questioner: (?~46:48) the presence of female sexuality.

John: Is that--wait, your parents? 

Questioner: No, no, no, the parents--

John: Oh, the parents of the kids.  Oh.  I was like, you need to sit down and have a talk! 

Questioner: I have a parent who is really angry about it, and what would you say in terms of censorship and my right to teach my class?

John: Well, I mean, you have the right to teach your class--that's--first of all, that's ridiculous, because it's The Awakening for god's sakes.  And that's ridiculous.  Can you just say how ridiculous it is over and over?  I mean, the problem is that you do have an obligation to be respectful of other peoples' viewpoints, but I think that's the argument made.  This is not going to make --this is not what's going to make your kid a sexual being.  That's (?~47:35) and you know, that's, like I said, that's a difficult conversation to have, but I--I mean, I always, whenever this happens to me, I always try to get on the phone with people who've removed the book to have a conversation with them, and you know, you can say our values are different, and that's okay, but your kids' values aren't going to change from reading this book, the same way, like, people don't read you know, people are able to read things and not approve of the behavior.  I mean, it's possible to read The Awakening and say, this is a great example of why women shouldn't have sexual feelings.  I don't think that would be a very legitimate reading of the book, but you know, like, I mean, right, you're exactly right, the only thing possibly concerning about The Awakening is the idea of female sexuality, the existence of it, because it's certainly not much more than that, and you have to have that frank conversation, but that's also, I mean, I'm not an expert in this, and I would go to the office for intellectual freedom for expertise, but you know, you also--that's a conversation that unfortunately, you have to have with the larger school district, but you're talking about--I mean, you're talking about a novel that has been read in literally thousands of schools for 90 years probably.  I mean, this is not controversial, at this point, and if they are bothered by it, then they should send their kids to a private school where they can have more say in the curriculum, because it's obvious that if you can't teach The Awakening, you can't teach much. 

I think that's the last question I have time for, I'm so sorry, but thank you guys all--(drowned out by applause)

Kent: I guess he was okay.  I'm glad you enjoyed it.  I'd like to thank the Dallas Public Library for hosting this (?~49:51) and I'd like to thank Penguin.  They are donating the proceeds from the books that you're purchasing to the Freedom to Read Foundation, so if you've not purchased the book, please do so, and John will be signing for a while.  We also still have food over on the other side. 

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