In literature, there have long been examples of fans reaching out to their favorite authors--Beverly Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw and The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires--and of course, Charles Dickens read new installments of his novels aloud to his readers on the streets of London. But it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when writers were so accessible to their fans across the nation and around the globe. John Green is one of those writers.
On BlogTalkRadio last week, I mentioned John as someone who writes about smart kids (okay, I called them “nerds,” having been one myself, but as Youth Empowered talk show host Eric Komoroff pointed out, that’s a loaded word). In Green's most recent book, Paper Towns (which comes out in paperback next month), one of Q’s two best friends, Radar, rewrites entries on a Wikipedia-like site in his free time. This is a kid who enjoys exercising his intellectual muscles.
Green has 4,967 friends on Facebook; 6,459 members of his SparksFlyUp page on LibraryThing.com; and more than 610,000 followers on Twitter. Early adapter that he is, he’s likely also on sites unknown to me with comparably impressive numbers of followers. But there is perhaps no forum for capturing the imaginations of his fans better than Nerdfighters. You have to see it to appreciate its many aspects, but Nerdfighters is essentially an online community for blogging, conversing about recent events and literature, and vlogging (the video equivalent of blogging). As Green explained, “Videoblogs are community-oriented. They are shaped by the viewer. TV is not.” Green established Nerdfighters with his brother, Hank, and the two create videoblogs that simulate a conversation. Because it’s completely authentic, and because John and Hank Green are, shall we say, keenly attuned to their teen audience, teens flock to the site and not only respond but also create their own original material.
Witnessing John Green with his fans is a wonder to behold. They tell him which parts of his books they liked best and why, and which parts they didn’t like (at times, they are brutally honest). At the signing I attended, one teen told him she liked Paper Towns even better after she’d read Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman’s book provides clues to the whereabouts of Margo, a character who’s disappeared), and then reread Paper Towns. And the best part is, the teens feel like they’ve only begun the discussion. After they go home, they continue to engage with the author and with each other in conversations on Nerdfighters. As a former teacher and a lifelong reader, I get very excited about seeing kids—especially teens—get this passionate about books, history, politics and geography. So I’ve become one of those converts who believes (not to evoke Jon Scieszka’s name yet again, but…), like Jon Scieszka, that the Internet is not the enemy, and that we can foster kids’ love of reading in all kinds of venues. So let’s hear it for John Green and the Nerdfighters!