I love The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS, for the uninitiated). Or, at least, I think I do. At this point, I can't really tell. All I know is that I'm supposed to. Which feels really weird.
For years, I bemoaned the fact that the things I love don't have great fandoms. Yes, YA has fantastic book blogs, there's no denying it, but it doesn't have the insane, paraphernalia friendly type of fan culture, like Star Wars or LOTR or Doctor Who or even freaking Adventure Time (like really? What is that? An animated show gets action figures and we don't? Come on!). Of course, the term "YA" encompasses a much more vast, overarching, generalized community than, say, the fan base surrounding one specific movie or book series. But even authors like Sarah Dessen or Meg Cabot, who are YA gods, don't have that type of following. And then came John Green.
I became a nerdfigher slowly. Reluctantly. When I read John's books, I wasn't one at all. I picked up Looking for Alaska with a completionist goal in mind, trying to stay up on the current trends in YA. This was pre-TFIOS, but John's books were still pretty hot back then, so much so that I felt I had to read them to keep up my YA credibility, the same logic which motivated me to read Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and all of Elizabeth Scott's novels. And here's the thing: I didn't even like Looking for Alaska! I did quite like An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns, however; enough so that I took the time to google John Green to see if, perhaps, he had a blog. He did not. But he did have a vlog. I started with Vlogbrothers, of course, quickly adding The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, Hankschannel, Emma Approved, occasionally Hank Games and Mental Floss, as well as associated creators such CGP Grey, Charlie McDonnell, Alex Day, Rosianna Halse Rojas, and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I added each without really thinking about it. They were simply things I enjoyed watching--it never really occurred to me that the watching of them would affect me in any way. I never considered that slowly, but surely, by watching all these channels and then following John and Hank on tumblr and then listening to Hank's music and then getting DFTBA posters for my bedroom walls, I had become….a nerdfighter?
It's a label I'm not exactly comfortable with, not one I fully identify with, but one you could certainly identify me as given my interests and internet habits. Which feels really strange. There have been a few times when I myself used the label as a sort of shorthand, but it's always felt kind of strange coming out of my mouth. Disingenuous. Unearned. A wrong fit. Conversely, identifying myself that way has sometimes made me feel like a fangirl. In that way, the label was embarrassing. Shameful. Either way, it has been a label I have resisted.
But, ultimately, it wasn't the label that made me question myself. It was how I started reacting to things. Originally, I was a fan of the things--the books, the music, the Youtube videos--and the fandom just came along with that. Now, though, as much as resist the "nerdfighter" name, I fear that I may be reacting as part of the fandom, rather than as a genuine fan with a passion for that specific thing. Specifically, TFIOS.
I really liked TFIOS when I read it. At least, according to my review I did. Yet, now, somehow, I find it hard to remember. Now, it's hard to figure out if I like TFIOS because I'm caught up in the hype and the adoring spirit of nerdfighteria, or if I actually like the book because of my own experience reading it. Unlike most books, I don't really have a personal relationship with TFIOS as much as I have a collective relationship with it. Whereas, with other novels, I reread parts only in the dead of the night or as a treat when I wake up on a lazy Sunday morning or when I'm really upset and need a source of comfort, with TFIOS, I don't seek it out in the same way. Instead, I follow John's tumblr and the TFIOS tumbler and visit the DFTBA website, and, of course, watch the Vlogbrothers videos. Instead of finding the quotes myself, digging through the book like I normally would to find that line or paragraph or moment that stood out to me, that touched me personally in some way, I find myself rereading the quotes that other people selected, that mattered to other people, that touch people most in nerdfighteria as a whole. I don't think this an inherently negative difference. But it is sort of a fascinating difference.
When I see the TFIOS movie poster or the TFIOS audiobook read by John Green, I instantly want those things. And I almost order them and I almost order them, and then I question myself: why do I want this thing? Is it because I love the book or because I'm supposed to love the book? Is it because I want to prove that I'm a nerdfighter or because I actually am one? Is that something I want to be? What does it mean that I want this thing?
All these questions! I don't have questions like this with Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins' novels. Because, in this unique case, it's not just my interpretation of the novel that gives it meaning--to use a John quote, "books belong to their readers"--but the group's interpretation. And, while I'm still finding my place in this group--or perhaps outside of this group--it seems the questions will remain unanswered.