From the Introduction
When I reviewed books, “I” was never in the review. I imagined myself as a disinterested observer writing from outside. My early reviews of Diet Dr Pepper and Canada geese were similarly written in the nonfictional version of third-person omniscient narration. After Sarah read them, she pointed out that in the Anthropocene, there are no disinterested observers; there are only participants. She explained that when people write reviews, they are really writing a kind of memoir—here’s what my
experience was eating at this restaurant or getting my
hair cut at this barbershop. I’d written 1,500 words about Diet Dr Pepper without once mentioning my abiding and deeply personal love of Diet Dr Pepper.
Around the same time, as I began to regain my sense of balance, I reread the work of my friend and mentor Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who’d died a few months earlier. She’d once written, “For anyone trying to discern what to do w/ their life: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO. That’s pretty much all the info u need.” My attention had become so fractured, and my world had become so loud, that I wasn’t paying attention to what I was paying attention to. But when I put myself into the reviews as Sarah suggested, I felt like for the first time in years, I was at least trying to pay attention to what I pay attention to.
This book started out as a podcast, where I tried to chart some of the contradictions of human life as I experience it—how we can be so compassionate and so cruel, so persistent and so quick to despair. Above all, I wanted to understand the contradiction of human power: We are at once far too powerful and not nearly powerful enough. We are powerful enough to radically reshape Earth’s climate and biodiversity, but not powerful enough to choose how
we reshape them. We are so powerful that we have escaped our planet’s atmosphere. But we are not powerful enough to save those we love from suffering.
I also wanted to write about some of the places where my small life runs into the large forces of the Anthropocene. In early 2020, after two years of writing the podcast, an exceptionally large force appeared in the form of a novel coronavirus. I began then to write about the only thing I could write about. Amid the crisis—and writing to you from April of 2021, I am still amid it—I find much to fear and lament. But I also see humans working together to share and distribute what we collectively learn, and I see people working together to care for the sick and vulnerable. Even separated, we are bound up in each other. As Sarah told me, there are no observers; only participants.
Copyright © 2021 by John Green. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.