I was pleasantly surprised by this book, having seen a few critical reviews of it. John Green can do very little wrong in my book (except his teenagers exist in a weird only-child bubble). He makes me laugh out loud and sneaks in big issues in a way that I enjoy- they are usually large sweeping meaningful statements in the final chapter, but they are not overly dramatic or lame.
So let’s see here, An Abundance of Katherines is about former child prodigy, Colin, who gets dumped by the nineteenth girl he’s dated with the name of Katherine. Colin gets face-in-the-carpet sad and his BFF, Hassan, convinces him to go on a road trip. Their road trip lasts a day or two before they land in Gutshot, Tennessee where they meet Lindsey and her mother, find a job conducting oral history interviews, and get up to the typical just-graduated-from-high-school hijinks. Colin, in particular, mourns his loss of Katherine XIX by trying to come up with a mathematical formula to predict the course of a relationship. That part is about as lame as it sounds.
And while Colin was a little grating at times (teenagers recovering from a break-up are never NOT whiny and annoying), I enjoyed this book because I saw the sneaking of some historical theory in there. As I sat reading the epilogue, I was like… has John Green been reading some Hayden White?* Green talks about how how to make a good history (or story) we have to take tidbits of data and relate them to one another in a meaningful way.** It is Colin’s great triumph of the book to be able to tell a story. Green also briefly throws in some stuff about historical memory. You know, the whole we remember things based on the stories we tell about them, not based on what actually happened. (I suppose the English major crowd would probably like this portion for what it says about the enduring legacy of stories, but I liked it for what it says about histories.)
This is a super nerd book. It has math, including formulas and graphs, historical theory, footnotes***, anagrams, an appendix, and probably more nerdy stuff that I am not nerdy enough to have noticed. I am, however, the right brand of nerd for this book.
So while I seemed to enjoy this more than many other reviewers, that is not to say there weren’t flaws… the characters (other than Hassan, who was awesome) aren’t as endearing as some of Green’s other characters. The premise is sort of implausible (seriously, what supernerd has dated as much as Colin?). And the plot wasn’t really anything special. But I still really really enjoyed this book. John Green can write with humor and intelligence. And apparently I am still not over my days as a historian.
Anyways, if you are a John Green fan who can stomach some major nerdiness, read this. Otherwise, go read his other books. Green is a good time.
*Should you care to know, Hayden White’s book, The Content of the Form, basically points out that history has as much to do with the way the story is told (its form) as it does with its factual content. He points out that the narrative (story-telling) form of history that we’ve been using since approximately the 18th century is not the only way to tell history, giving as a counter-example monastic lists of discrete events with no attempts to draw connections between them. And his point is basically that it is important for historians to know that they are constructing narratives. Deconstruction is good for the soul. Or something. (Gimme a break, it’s been 2.5 years since I had to talk about this stuff.)
**So if you read footnote one, you might realize that Green is basically saying that to make a good history we gotta take the content (discrete facts) and insert them into a form (the narrative).
***I’d just like to footnote that I am putting footnotes in a post about a book with footnotes.