An Apology to John Green and an “Assignment” for Aspiring Writers

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If you follow me on social media, you already know I just finished reading the tenth anniversary edition of my favorite book, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Let me premise the rest of this post by saying this was the first time I had read the book since I bought it sometime between 2008 and 2010.

There are a few decent reasons why I bought a new edition as an excuse to read the story over again, the main one being I’ve felt a little trapped lately, a little sad, a little wary of my past—and while I don’t plan on [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER], I felt like reading a story I could relate to much more now than I could in high school, and I was right: I cried through about half of it, and it was beautiful. It made me feel alive; it made me feel whole, which, if you’ve read the book, is amazing.

This concept of feeling trapped in a “labyrinth of suffering” is a motif throughout the novel, one a lot of people can relate to. Unfortunately, most readers want to relate to it so much that they’ve gone as far as adopting the following as their mantra:

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”

As I mentioned above, I just read “Alaska” (it’s now Tuesday; I finished Sunday). And I made an interesting discovery, even before I finished the book for real. And like all millennials bursting at the seams with curiosity, I turned to Google to prove, or disprove, a theory.

I had a gut feeling about this quote. I had a gut feeling it was, devastatingly, not actually a quote from my favorite book after all.

Out of all the search results about the quote, at least on the first page, only ONE blogger questioned whether or not the quote was actually in the book.

I have news for you, “Alaska” fans, Nerdfighters, John Green book lovers: THE QUOTE. IS NOT. FROM. THE BOOK.

The concept is. The same message is implied. But nowhere in the 272 pages of “Looking for Alaska” does this quote appear. Miles never makes the word-for-word conclusion that the way out of the labyrinth of suffering is forgiveness.

Was I disappointed? Of course I was. I’ve tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked (verbs?) this quote before, fairly recently, actually, just like every other fan of the book, I’m sure, has fallen pray to doing. Then something miraculous happened. I sat down. I finished the book. I waited for pages and pages to come across that quote so I could, once again, highlight its magnificence on social media. As I approached the last few pages, I started to panic. Did I miss it? Did I just skip right over it?

But it wasn’t there. I skimmed the last page. Nothing.

Not only is this very sad proof that people don’t actually read books (they just pull “quotes” off of Goodreads, I guess) but we’re doing exactly what we do with Bible verses, and song lyrics: taking quotes out of context, reshaping them to fit what we’re too lazy to say ourselves, and not bothering to fact-check our sources or even try to understand where our new “favorite quote” came from.

I’m sure it was an accident. Someone misquoted—a pretty good quote, which is why it’s sad it turned out to be an imposter—and this happens all the time. But I have to apologize to John Green for not catching myself soon enough, and falling in love with a quote I found online before I had a chance to fall in love, again, with the actual original text of the novel.

If you can’t tell, this has upset me enough to prompt a post about reading books, which is something I don’t often do on a site catered to aspiring writers. But I’m still talking to you, fellow aspiring writers (and current writers, authors, novelists). And I have a request. An assignment, if you will.

Your assignment: pay attention.

Pay attention to what people are posting about your work online. Pay attention to the quotes, the conversations, the context. If something springs up that didn’t come from you, you have a right to call someone out on it. Kill the weed of misattribution before it starts spreading.

Green has been misquoted online before, and he isn’t the only one, but as best you can, no matter how vast the black hole of the Internet may be, defend your work. Don’t let another aspiring writer draft an entire blog post about how embarrassed she is to have claimed to love a book, only to find out the quote she loved the most did not actually exist.

Read before you quote. Quote as you read. THAT’S how it should be done. But please, don’t forget to appreciate a piece of writing as a whole, instead of dissecting it into smaller pieces that you put back together to speak for you. Speak for yourself. Write something of your own that’s just as beautiful as someone else’s words.

Also, please stop using this quote, unless you plan on joining me in my defense against good books that don’t need new words added to make them good. Or stop saying it’s from “Alaska” because it’s not. You can read the entire thing cover to cover if you don’t believe me. It certainly would not be a waste of your time.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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