The Anthropocene Reviewed—How to Fall in Love with the World Again

Renee Lucas ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In the age of Covid-19 it can be difficult to stay positive. With the death toll exceeding seven hundred thousand in the United States and 4.5 million worldwide, plus the contingent of people refusing to get vaccinated or wear a mask, it has become very easy to lose sight of what makes the world beautiful. 

Lucky for humankind, John Green has written a new book: The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet— “anthropocene” meaning the current geological age. Human beings have reshaped Earth and its biodiversity by eradicating entire species and collectively raising the temperature of the entire planet. Humans are the most powerful creatures on earth, and yet do not have enough power to reverse the damage already done. Green, who usually touches readers’ hearts, and reshapes their perspectives on life through young adult romance novels like The Fault in Our Stars, takes a whole new approach to storytelling with this new book. Using Covid-19, one of the deadliest tragedies in recent history, as a backdrop, he writes a series of essays containing brilliantly insightful analyses of different human experiences and reviews them on a five-star scale.  

Green’s essays differ wildly in terms of subject, rating, and how personal they are to his life. One of the subjects that ranks very low, at one and a half stars, is “The Yips.” The yips refers to a phenomenon that happens, mostly to professional athletes, when they, for whatever reason, cannot perform their well-honed skills. For Rick Ankiel, of the St. Louis Cardinals, this was pitching. Green states in his essay, “He threw five wild pitches in twenty attempts. After that, he never consistently found the strike zone again… The kid, it turned out, was not a machine. Kids never are.” This may seem like a tragic story, and to some degree it was. Rick Ankiel turned quickly to alcohol in hopes that it would fix him. It of course did not. However, he did eventually recover his career by switching to the outfield, and has since hit over fifty home runs. This story of overcoming difficult and unexpected obstacles highlights how good human beings are at persevering, something that people often lose sight of in difficult moments. 

On the opposite side of the rating scale, coming in at five stars, we have “Sunsets.” Everyone has seen a beautiful sunset in their life, but in his essay Green makes a sunset much more than a pretty view. He turns it into a symbol of vulnerability, and teaches his readers that to see and accept the beautiful parts of the world, you must be vulnerable to them. He uses the memory of his dog, Willy,  to reiterate this. He states that when Willy was a puppy, he would run around in the yard at dusk. When he finally got tired, Willy would run to Green and lie on his back, showing his belly. Green notes what an incredible thing that is: his dog trusted that no one would hurt him where he is the least protected and most vulnerable. Green goes on to say how he learned from Willy that day: “you cannot see the beauty which is enough unless you make yourself vulnerable to it… And so I try to turn toward the scattered light, belly out, and I tell myself: This doesn’t look like a picture, and it doesn’t look like a god. It is a sunset, and it is beautiful.” Green encourages his readers in this moment not to view beautiful things like sunsets through photographs, or paintings, or compare them to things they aren’t, but to accept the sunset for what it is: beautiful. Not divine, not photoshopped, it is just a sunset, and that is enough. 

Whether it is a tragic story of an athlete getting the yips, or simply admiring the beauty of a sunset, Green romanticizes the smallest parts of the human experience, and highlights their beauty brilliantly. In doing this, Green inspires his readers to not only focus on the small human experiences that he finds interesting, but to focus on small details of human life that they find interesting as well. Because of this newfound appreciation for the smaller things in life, like “Canada Geese” or “Air-Conditioning”, Green gives his readers a reason to turn their belly towards the setting sun. 

Even more important than a reason, Green gives his readers the courage to be vulnerable. He acknowledges how hard it can be to allow yourself to be happy in the face of all the tragedies in the world, and how easy it is to allow yourself to be cynical—to turn your back on the world, to only let yourself see the pain. But if John Green, a man who spent most of his younger years as a self-proclaimed cynic, can find the courage to fall in love with the world again and write a 293 page book detailing all of the beautiful things he can think of, he then inspires his readers to do the same.

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