The Anthropocene Reviewed
Occasionally you read a book that makes reading all the other books worth it. Not that each book isn't worth it in its own way, but some books take all the other books you've gone through and turn them to a simple pedestal for this book to sit on. That was the Anthropocene Reviewed for me.
There are many threads here that led me to this book. The most obvious is John Green. Most of you know John Green from his hit book which became a hit movie-The Fault in Our Stars. Not to toot my own horn but (toot!) I had discovered John a little earlier when a book called Paper Towns appeared in my local library. I knew every book in the tiny young adult section of the library so when a new book appeared it stuck out to me as if my parents had painted our house purple. (Later I would discover lists of suggested books to read published online and how to reserve books on the internet. But this? This was the wild days of 2007.) It looked good and I checked it out.
I finished it in one night. I laughed out loud and I cried, a rare combination. The book skyrocketed to the top of my favorite books list where it would continue to fight with Harry Potter and Bella Swan for years. A classmate loaned me one of John's other books which I also devoured, but refused to loan me his first book, stating that I would learn something crazy from that book.
The summer between eighth and ninth grade I did get my hands on that book and I did learn that crazy thing that was in that book and I was NOT PREPARED and also VERY CONFUSED and I think I still might be? Unclear.
Eventually The Fault in Our Stars came out and John became a household name and I stopped reading Young Adult though I made an exception for his books and continued to enjoy his YouTube Channel and Podcasts.
One of the podcasts was called The Anthropocene Reviewed. John would take something random (Teddy Bears, for instance) and review them and rate them on a scale of one to five stars. The podcast was funny, enlightening, and also very mellow, which was what I needed as I navigated my 5 pm NYC commute.
Then that thing happened and we all went into hiding and I haven't commuted in 15 months and so there isn't a need for podcasts anymore and John made his podcast into a book.
At first I was skeptical. I've read many books with a sort of high concept draw, and they tend to get very repetitive very fast. Somehow John evades this by using the reviews to tell his life story-a bullied skinny kid, a young adult trying to make it in the world while suffering from severe OCD and depression, a young married man in love with his wife and terrified of losing her, a father to two small children faced with unbelievable success.
This has turned into a book review which it is not. The point of this is to tell you that I saw myself in John. Suffering from mental illness is indescribable-literally there is no way to describe it. John and I are in the same boat in many ways in that we come from healthy middle class families, have a support system on which to fall, and have no trauma on which to blame our symptoms. We both know we are so lucky that at any time we can call our parents who will support us emotionally, physically, and financially until things regulate.
Being lucky within the framework of a mental illness is like being the tallest dwarf. You recognize that you have blessings-but you're still a dwarf.
I read most of John's reviews over Shabbos until I got to one that made me weep openly. John is reviewing Academic Decathlons and mentions that his friend wrote an essay about a river. Now, adult-pandemic John sits by a river and thinks about that essay. He feels the walls of the pandemic closing in on him and skims through a book by Terry Tempest Williams and sees a passage he highlighted years ago: "When one of us says, 'Look there's nothing out there,' what we are really saying is, 'I cannot see.'"
In the 1300s no one believed there was anything farther west than Portugal. Right now I sit in an apartment in New York City that proves that opinion to be wrong. There were nights in high school when I thought that my graduation was a precipice and that once I passed it, I would fall into the abyss below. I couldn't see. Depression is when one cannot see their way out and I have never seen it written so clearly.
In Taylor Swift's song 'Happiness' when she speaks of the trauma of a fictional marriage ending she says Honey when I'm above the trees/ I see this for what it is/but now I'm right down in it. We cannot see what is when we are surrounded by the trees. We need to get to the top of the mountain (or into the plane, in Taylor's case) to see how tiny everything really is. To see that there is more out there.
I often feel down on my journey to find a husband and my journey to keep my mental health in check. During down times I will tell people that there is nothing out there. John Green's book taught me that, there is always something out there. Sometimes I cannot see.
A group of fans put together a site called https://theanthropocenereviewed.com/ where fans could mark exactly where they read the book and give a one to five star review to the place in which they read it. I read most of this book while out and about at the National Gymnastics Championships in Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. I gave a 5 star review which I would like to elaborate upon:
Dickies Arena is a small arena, probably most frequently used for small basketball games and the occasional rodeo. This weekend it was used for the National Gymnastics Championships. I bought tickets to this event in 2019 and held on to them, believing that, one day, live sports would return. I got my wish in June of 2021. Masks were required in the building but not highly enforced and I felt no fear amongst the crowd, my Pfizer RNA had my back. Between the gymnastics events there are long hours while the girls train and the crowd is exiled from the arena itself. I sat outside the arena, where I could plug my phone into an outlet, and soaked in the Texas sun and read The Anthropocene Reviewed. I'm a speed reader but this book took me longer as I wanted to soak in each elegant sentence of prose. The arena was an ideal place to read-lots of sunshine and fresh air, outlets for my exhausted phone, and kind security guards who returned to check on me-one even gave me a free shirt for my dedication. I could not have picked a better book to pair with my weekend at the lovely Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. John and I both lost things we love that were insignificant in the grand scheme of things due to the pandemic but were significant to us. I enjoyed his take on what it meant to have anxiety as the world literally fell apart. Reading it at my first real event where it felt almost normal showed me that even in the darkest times there will be arenas and sunshine and kind security guards again. Get above the trees, cross the Atlantic Ocean and discover that there is more out there-we just cannot see it.