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Spotlight: The Anthropocene Reviewed

By Lucy Farcnik

Image is an aerial view photograph of a small body of blue water surrounded by grey rocks.

If you lived through the John Green hype of what I will conservatively estimate as being from 2008-2015 (unless you’re a diehard fan like myself, for whom it lasts forever), then it may surprise you to know that Green’s latest book wasn’t a scintillating, off-kilter YA romance adorned with obscure knowledge and references, but instead a book of essays titled The Anthropocene Reviewed. The book is meant to discuss a myriad of mundane and fantastical aspects of our human-centered planet in “the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity.”

But this article isn’t about The Anthropocene Reviewed book, but in fact its predecessor, The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast. The premise of the podcast is to “review different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” Both the book and the podcast share much of the same content, yet there is something magical about Green’s narration, a kind of whimsical nostalgia that, while occasionally riddled with a strange sense of melancholy, still seems to remain hopeful and curious in the face of a planet that is constantly changing because of us, usually not for the better.

Depending on the episode, Green either covers one or two subjects. Some standouts include: “Icelandic Hot Dog Stand and Signing Your Name 250,000 Times,” where Green reviews the temporary nature of celebration and change in the context of Icelandic hot dogs, as well as the hand cramp-y process of signing his name for the first printing of The Anthropocene Reviewed; “You’ll Never Walk Alone and Jerzy Dudek,” which talks about the history and legend status of the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for Liverpool FC, as well as the whacky sports story of Jerzy Dudek; and “Our Capacity for Wonder and Sunsets,” with Green reviewing our ability to wonder as a species, as well as the simple perfection of sunsets. His section on sunsets is a particular favourite, where he says:

[...] 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 wildly beautiful, and this whole thing you’ve been doing where almost nothing gets five stars because almost nothing is perfect? That’s BS. So much is perfect. Starting with this. I give sunsets five stars.

Green, as always, is distinctly literary, but this podcast is personal in a way that would be familiar to watchers of the channel he shares with his brother Hank but might be somewhat foreign to those who have only read his novels. It is honest. It is quiet in its way of looking at the world. His observations are calm, like Green describing our capacity for wonder in the way he sees it in his son, who marvels at a leaf that Green himself thinks is perfectly ordinary, only to realize that the leaf itself contains wonder, but he—and, in turn, many of us—have lost the capacity to look for it. Listening to these reflections hits differently. You can hear Green staring into the world, as well as his unique ability to describe how it stares back.

There is also something to be said for the accessible nature of a podcast. This is particularly interesting, as The Anthropocene Reviewed is also available in audiobook format. Granted, the book has some essays that the podcast doesn’t, but having access to the podcast for free means that you can listen to a large swath of the book's content without paying the hefty price tag of the book or audiobook. You also get some of the immediacy of Green’s thoughts, which are edited down or phrased differently in the book itself.

This podcast was a fairly unprecedented experience for me. Normally, books and podcasts are inherently separate in my mind, even if podcasters happen to write a book (think My Favourite Murder’s Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark’s Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide). These books usually relate to the podcast in some way but are far more memoir than about their respective shows. In The Anthropocene Reviewed, the line between Green’s own life and the show contents is blurry, making for a unique autobiographical experience. The addition of music and other audio elements lend the podcast ambiance that a book can’t quite achieve, giving the listener an experience that feels intentional and personal whilst appealing to both their mind and their ear.

Perhaps it is Green’s considerable following that gives him a platform where his semi-autobiographical musings about the nuances of the human experience can gain a great deal of traction, but it is impossible to deny that his voice and focus here is unique. Even his advertisements, which pop up between topics on the podcast, are narrated with a quietly funny, unique style that makes you forget you are being sold life insurance. One must only ask when the life insurance episode of the podcast is coming.

The only downfall to The Anthropocene Reviewed as a podcast is that we don’t get more of it. It is generally unclear when—or if—Green will upload. As of writing this article, a new episode hasn’t been released since August 6th, 2021. For all we know, we may never get another episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed. But that is a risk I am willing to take to fall deeply, madly in love with this podcast.

Like Green often does, I’ll end on a personal note. I spent many panicked moments of 2020 walking around my neighbourhood after dark to try to stave off the immense feeling of impending doom that seemed to follow everyone and everything back then. I would walk into the street to dodge the droplets of fellow pedestrians, after nine p.m. being the only time I felt safe enough to walk outside without a mask. This podcast got me through that time. It didn’t make me happy. It didn’t tell me it was going to be alright. But, cliché as it might sound, I felt less alone listening to Green talk about all of the beauty intermingled with the horror around us. On May 28th, 2021, I listened to “You’ll Never Walk Alone and Jerzy Dudek” for the first time. Green uttered the words:

A couple weeks ago [in March 2020], a video made the rounds online in which a group of UK paramedics sang through a glass wall to their colleagues on the other side who were working in an intensive care unit [choral singing of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’]. The stadia are empty, but even now, especially now, we must find ways to sing to each other, and encourage each other. What a word that is, en-courage. Though our dreams be tossed and blown, still we sing ourselves and one another into courage, and we walk on.

I was very glad it was after nine p.m., so that my neighbours didn’t catch me crying on the sidewalk. With The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast, you’ll never walk alone.

I give The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast five stars.

P.S. If you’re interested, there’s a fan page for the book where people write their own reviews of the locations in which they are reading. I’d definitely recommend giving it a look!

You can listen to The Anthropocene Reviewed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, WNYC Studios or wherever you get your podcasts.


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