The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Ask the Author | John Green on banning book laws, fan base growth

Green is visiting Iowa City on April 18 to receive the Distinguished Lecture award from the University Lecture Committee.
Gary Brockman/For IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
Bestselling author and Indianapolis resident John Green expresses his thoughts on libraries banning books as the Indianapolis Public Library kicked off national Banned Books Week with a discussion on Oct 2, 2023, at the Indianapolis Central Branch Public Library.

Few readers have yet to encounter a book written by John Green, from his iconic young adult fiction novels “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Looking for Alaska,” and “Paper Towns” to his most recent dive into the nonfiction realm with “The Anthropocene Reviewed.” He also works closely with his brother Hank Green as a digital content creator, most commonly regarded for his work creating Crash Course — a YouTube channel dedicated to making educational videos widely available to the public.

Green is visiting Iowa City on April 18 to speak and receive the Distinguished Lecture award from the University Lecture Committee. Before his visit, Green spoke with The Daily Iowan on the emotional toll of book bans, his own insecurities as a writer, and the importance of collaborating for content creation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Iowan: Between your novels, YouTube videos, and social media presence, your endeavors have deeply impacted a wide audience. How has your celebrity presence in the way you approached the internet shifted as you tackle some of these new projects?

John Green: Well, my relationship with the internet is always shifting. I think that’s true for all of us. I definitely am a little more cautious about sharing stuff from my private life than I used to be. I don’t post pictures of my kids or things like that. What I’m interested in, and what I’m working on, is always changing. It’s very different to be working on a YA [young adult] novel than it is to be working on a book about tuberculosis, and so that shifts my relationship with the internet. I would say my relationship with the internet is a smidge of a tortured romance. I love the internet, and it’s been very good to me, but it’s a complicated relationship, for sure.

Sometimes it would be a little toxic, I’d imagine.

I’ll say this: I’m glad that my marriage is not like my relationship with the internet.

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?

No. They’re all insufficient in different ways. I think “[Turtles All the Way Down]” was the hardest to write, and so I have a special kind of slot in my mind for “Turtles.” But yeah, I have to be honest. I don’t like any of them that much. I think that’s universal among authors. Like, I can’t look back on those. I feel grateful. I think a good book can only become great if it’s read generously. I think no matter how good the book is, it has to be read by someone who’s going to bring their whole self to it and bring all their empathy and experiences to it. All of my books have been very fortunate that way, like they’re made better by their readers, which isn’t a universal experience for authors. But I’ve just been very lucky in that respect. I’m proud of my work, but thinking about it, I can only think about what I should have done better.

That’s super interesting to hear, especially considering your desire to improve yourself coming from someone like you who has had incredible successes within the industry. Do you think that that sort of mentality can almost be affirming for writers?

I think it’s important to hear that the insecurity never goes away.

In the state of Iowa, but also beyond, there has been some recent legislation that’s focused on banning books, and many of your novels have made the list. What does the process look like in terms of fighting against these bands? Is there any way that readers can help support you and support, keeping this available for the public?

I want to be clear that the heroes of the story are not me here. The heroes are the librarians and teachers who have to deal with this stuff alongside doing their actual jobs of teaching and librarianship. I do think that readers have a big, big role to play in terms of standing up for intellectual freedom. When people attend those school board meetings and say that reading this book mattered to them and it didn’t make them a worse person, it wasn’t dangerous, it didn’t harm them. Instead, it helped them. I do think that matters. We’ve seen that when communities push back against these book bans, they tend to work. To be honest, it’s hard. It’s hard to be called a pornographer. It’s hard to be called a groomer. Those things are hurtful. It’s a bummer. But I’m proud of my work, and I stand by it, and I’m very grateful to the teachers and librarians who continue to share it.

One last question for you. You’re coming to the UI, commonly known as the writing school. What sort of advice would you give to any young, passionate, budding writers?

Well, first off, I’m so intimidated to come to the University of Iowa because of all of the talented writers there, including my dear friends Kaveh Akbar and Paige Lewis who teach there. Then secondly, I am asked to give advice to writers. I feel as if I am an elephant who has been asked to tell a group of other elephants how to be an elephant. That would be fine, except that I don’t know anything about how to be an elephant. I have no idea how to be an elephant. What a weird situation to be in. I don’t know how to make sense of it. The only real advice I have is to read and read broadly. I think reading is the apprenticeship that we have as writers. It’s a chance to learn directly, not only from Kaveh Akbar and Paige Lewis but also from William Shakespeare and Toni Morrison. How fortunate we are in our craft to be able to learn directly from people who’ve been gone for centuries. So, that’s my only piece. In general, I feel like everybody else knows more about how to be an elephant than I do.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Jami Martin-Trainor
Jami Martin-Trainor, Managing Digital Editor
Jami Martin-Trainor is a third-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Political Science with a minor in Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies. Prior to her role as the Managing Digital Editor of The Daily Iowan, Jami was the Assistant Digital Editor, a digital producer, and an arts reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Jami has interned at KCCI in Des Moines and the Cedar Rapids Gazette.