Festival of Books: John Green, on his book-to-film and nerdfighters

John Green, left, speaks Saturday with L.A. Times writer David Ulin at the Festival of Books.
(Bret Hartman / For The Times)

The atmosphere at John Green’s panel was sort of like a high school classroom. And Green was the coolest kid on campus.

The skinny, nerdy-looking author with glasses was treated like a rock star during his panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Saturday, with the crowd – some of whom had waited in line since 9 a.m. for a 12:30 p.m. session – giving him a roaring ovation when he walked onstage.

He delighted his audience, which ranged from teenagers to gray-haired baby boomers, in speaking about the autobiographical nature of some of his books, his love of romance novels, his beef with the Internet, and a concept he created in which people who identify as “nerdfighters” team up to spread positivity throughout the world.


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During the panel, Green gave his nod of approval to the film version of his latest book, “The Fault in Our Stars,” which will hit theaters June 6.

“The reason that it’s good is because Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort … they took the book very, very seriously and cared so much about the characters,” he said of the actors in the lead roles. “In some ways I think they understand the characters in a way that I couldn’t.”

Green, one of the most popular young adult writers in the country, said he told the moviemakers that he wanted the film to be an accurate portrayal of the book, which is about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love.

“If you’re going to make a movie where sometimes her lung feels better so you can get pretty pictures, then no,” he said.

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But another thing drove the filmmakers to maintain the integrity of the book.

“They were really scared of the readers of the story,” Green said. “They were genuinely afraid.”

During the panel, Green, who regularly posts to a blog on his website, also tackled the issue of Internet communication.

“What drives me crazy about the Internet is that a lot of places on the Internet are not super great at nuance,” he said. “They’re not ‘Wait, let’s talk and have an extended conversation about that before we decide how we feel about Ben Affleck playing Superman.’”

Members of the audience pointed out that Affleck had been cast to play Batman, not the Man of Steel, but Green continued without missing a beat, following up with another jokey reference.

“We’re really bad at that and you think ‘Oh my God, Oh no! Ben Affleck is going to be Spiderman,’ ” he said. “And then poor Ben Affleck, who just wants to play Green Goblin, is sitting at home being like ‘Why do these people hate me?’ ”

But then Green got serious about the online world.

“We’re not good at that on the Internet … we’re not good at hearing voices that are different from our own respectfully,” he said. “And that’s really problematic to me.”


He also reminded his readers of the importance of the relationships that teenagers build. And he did it in his usual blunt and comical manner.

“Even though a lot of us are told it isn’t valuable or it isn’t going to last or isn’t forever, well, nothing is forever. It’s a ridiculous thing for an adult to say ‘You won’t be friends forever,’” he said. “When someone says that to you, you should just say, ‘Well, you’re going to be dead in like 30 years.’”

Those relationships are crucial for teenagers, he said. “No one should minimize that for you.”

The eccentric author also discussed one of his favorite books, “The Catcher in the Rye.”

He said the main character, Holden Caulfield, is now being viewed by teens as a “whiny rich kid, whose problems are not truly legitimate.”

“I want to grab them firmly by the shoulders and say, ‘You are so self-obsessed and self indulgent. You also have problems that are not the most dramatic and important in human history … but they’re still problems. They still matter. They demand your attention and your pain is real,’ ” he said. “I think that Holden’s pain is real too.”