An Abundance of Katherines

This is now my fourth foray into John Green’s novels. I’ve written about the last three, and I’ve really liked them. And this time was no different, in fact perhaps my favourite. So I’m a little miffed that it’s his lowest rated and lowest read book on Goodreads, which of course means absolutely nothing in terms of the quality of the book, but it’s obvious that it’s not hugely popular. Now, having seen that, and looked a bit at his Only if you have read An Abundance of Katherines tumblr, I can actually see why people weren’t so hot on the book, but a lot of the things which made them hate it, is what made me like it.

Someone hated the footnotes, and I loved them.  I love getting John’s thoughts thrown in, or extra detail, or some mathematics. It didn’t really disrupt the flow, and it was interesting. I like tangents, and I feel like I go on them often here and elsewhere. And that doesn’t bother me, because tangents are part of the journey, they are the natural progression of a conversation where there is so much to convey.

Others hated the fact that there was maths. No. It wasn’t a maths novel, just cause it had an equation and some graphs didn’t make it that mathsy. The downfall of the novel might have been to include maths on the cover of one of the editions, that was a poor decision, but understandable. I like maths, and personally found even the appendix lacking in mathematical detail, I wanted more, not less! But the fact that Colin tried to create a formula which showed the path of relationships, just goes to show that he doesn’t quite get ‘it’. Something he realises later, the future isn’t predictable, you can’t use a formula for it (well yet…).

Someone found the anagrams annoying. I found it quite interesting, and they were a key part of the story with a few reveals. Some were quite clever, and sure there were quite a few, but so what.

Some (a lot really) found Colin damn right annoying and whiny. I personally didn’t think that very much. Yes he does whine, yes, he’s not the best person in the world, and yes he can be annoying. But, as John very much says the character doesn’t HAVE to be likeable (even if I did like him enough). Someone left a comment saying that they have learnt never to date a washed-up child prodigy who can speak 11 languages. And that just pisses me off. What a odd thing to say, so you read a book about a person, and then decide that because of a fictional character you wouldn’t do something in real life? Even if it was likely a joke, it annoys me.

So perhaps some of this is because I can sympathise with Colin. I wouldn’t say I was a prodigy, I certainly can’t speak 11 languages (but I’d love to be able to, and want to, and have started to learn languages), I don’t have a crazy ability to anagram things, I don’t know American presidents (well that should be a given since I’m not American, but I don’t know all the Australian Prime Ministers), and I think I’m more socially adept than Colin. But I sympathise with him so much. I often find little things really interesting, that some people don’t (the key is to find people who do find it interesting, or find people who won’t mind if you tell them that). I do have a pretty good memory and can remember random things. I can make connections between things which other people might not see – like I’ll be in the car and I see that the odometer and the clock match up and find that a little interesting. That’s me. I can see myself in Colin.

But also I can’t see myself at all. He’s dated 19 Katherines (well actually 18, but one of them was twice), and the story starts with him getting dumped yet again (he’s been dumped by all 19). Though we find out that Colin a) counts going out with someone very easily, b) some relationships lasted hours, and c) he actually didn’t get dumped by all of them. This last point is quite interesting because “You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.”  This is very true. Humans can’t distinguish between genuine and fake memories. It’s just why you have a dream about something and then years later struggle to actually figure out if I dreamt that or if it was real. Our memories distort the past, so we can think one thing but in reality something else happened, or it didn’t happen at all.

He can be annoying. He takes the dump not very well, and is quite clingy at trying to get back with her. He whines about Katherine, a lot. But, a lot of people do this. A lot of hold on to their exs, a lot. People have all sorts of ways with coping, and Colin’s is justifiable, though it is excess.

Once again we have another road trip, and it’s so exciting, he goes with his friend Hassan (who is Muslim, and without knowing what the Muslim community thinks about it so perhaps I’m wrong, but it was good to see him in this story, a “moderate Muslim” if you want to call him that). And this (the roadtrip part) always conflicts with me, because every time I’ve had a roadtrip (albeit ones with family going on a holiday somewhere – and Australia’s a large enough place so we’re stuck in the car for hours just like the US), it’s not so exciting. Perhaps the fact that when we have a road trip it’s going to mean a good few hours driving past a lot of dirt, dust, and not that much greenery, doesn’t help. And perhaps it’s not quite the same spirit as an impromptu let’s just drive roadtrip. But damn Green keeps making me want to road trip.

This time they end up in a small town, Gutshot, because Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was buried there. Well not really, and that just becomes another piece of evidence for our memory obscuring the past. They meet Lindsey, and in true Green style, Colin finds her hot, and she’s smart, and eventually they fall in love. It’s what I’ve come to expect from Green, so I wasn’t shocked or anything. And I don’t think I could take too many more books with this being the central thing, but so far I’m okay with it all. Of course she actually already has a boyfriend, who is also Colin, but is his foil, since he is a hulking beast. Plus Colin wants to mean something to the world, to be remembered for something, and to not be a child prodigy who fades away into ‘normalness’, while the other Colin is content living in Gutshot forever. The fear of Colin’s is certainly something everyone must come to terms with, that you aren’t likely the best person at tennis, or the smartest, or the strongest, you might be good at it, but there are plenty of others out there that are a lot better. And the fact that as a child you might grow up believing you are really good at something because within your sphere that’s the case, and your parents/friends/relatives might reinforce that, it can be hard for people to deal with it. But most people do.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I don’t really care that others didn’t. It just once again showed me that I really like John’s writing style and his ability to write young characters, who are intelligent, and who aren’t 100% normal.

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8 thoughts on “An Abundance of Katherines

  1. I gave up on An Abundance of Katherines, I am embarrassed to say! But I did give it to my brother and he absolutely loved it. I think it was also has favorite of Green’s novels (Alaska is my favorite). I do intend to go back to AoK, as none of the things you listed above as criticisms bothered me and I think I’ll like it if I just give it another chance.

  2. ALSO, if you like John Green, I highly recommend Andrew Smith’s novels. His male protagonists are a little less squeaky-clean than Green’s (they are more likely to use foul language and smoke), but he has brilliant sentences and works in big questions in the same way Green does.

      1. I think it was more about timing. I was reading too many books at the same time, and I kept checking AoK out from the digital library and it kept expiring before I could finish! Then I got distracted by other things and didn’t come back to it.

  3. I will have to read a John Green novel eventually and do in fact own The Fault in Our Stars.

    My sister could never wrap her mind around why anyone would want to learn another language, though I’ve always liked the idea and with a Cambodian stepmother in the family it might make sense for me to learn Khmer.

    I can name all the American presidents following McKinley, but I don’t know any Australian prime ministers or have any knowledge of Australian history so don’t feel guilty.

    1. The Fault in Our Stars is quite good, and as I’ve said, I found them really easy to breeze through.

      For me it’s about being to communicate to other people, read different books, watch their shows/news. Plus it explains some English as well, since we’ve borrowed words/variants.

  4. I’ve been wanting to read this book forever, after reading your review I need to! I definitely think it’s one that I may like. I feel like everything you pointed out that other people didn’t like are things I would like in the book.

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