Whatcha Reading, John Green?

I met John Green at the mediabistro Publishing App Expo, where I was speaking on a panel about real-life business models for publishing-related apps. He was the keynote speaker, and he basically walked us through the history of how he, inspired by the pioneering work of Ze Frank, started a YouTube channel with his brother, Hank, called Vlogbrothers that’s become hugely popular. And on the one hand, that means that just by announcing the title of one of his novels, eleven months before it’s scheduled to be released, he can spur a pre-order frenzy that takes The Fault In Our Stars to the top of the Amazon and charts—but, on the other hand, it means he can mobilize folks to raise money for an orphanage in Bangladesh. I find that really inspiring; along with the success of the End Malaria Day project, it resonates with some ideas I’ve been kicking around about using community-oriented books to drive fundraising campaigns that I hope to implement in the next year or so.

But back to John Green: He’s reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and he’s really enthusiastic about it. It’s probably my favorite Gaiman novel, too, on a par with the best Sandman arcs. For my money, it excels in one of the things Gaiman does best, which is to take all these bits of pop culture and folklore and mythology that are kicking around in the back of our collective imaginations and invest them with emotional heft and significance—meanwhile, he’s introducing “fantasy” elements into convincing “real-world” environments in ways that feel very…naturalistic may not be exactly the word I’m looking for here, but you get the idea: It doesn’t require huge leaps of faith to buy into the premises of a Neil Gaiman story. If you haven’t read one before, American Gods is a great place to start. Just ask John Green!

(Back to his keynote: Another point he made, which I really took to heart, was the idea that the publishing industry’s goal of a magic app which will bring readers and authors (or publishers) closer together into an ongoing relationship already exists—it’s just that it’s disorganized and spread out over, say, Green’s books and his YouTube channel and his Tumblr and his Twitter account and so on. So, who’s going to tie it all together into a single application where you can buy and read books and reach out to the author and connect with other people who dig the books as much as you do? Which is actually a fair summation of one of the goals Electric Publisher app…)

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7 December 2011 | whatcha reading |