Cultural Studies . Language and Literature

The Importance of Place

By Jennifer Burek Pierce

Place is central to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and to the community of readers who love his work.  In both the novel and the movie versions of this story, visually distinctive places anchor the plot.  My images of those sites conveys something of the experience of reading that book and writing about its reception in the Edinburgh History of Reading: Common Readers volume.


Image of Place 1, The TFiOS Bench

Place 1 – The TFiOS Bench, Amsterdam

Much has happened to the canal-side bench in Amsterdam where characters Hazel and Gus had a poignant conversation. The Fault in Our Stars bench has been stolen, replaced, and replaced again when the city installed benches made of contemporary, weather-proof material.  Fans seek out the site and mark it with their words – something I discuss in my chapter.  They also leave love locks like those that burden Parisian bridges, as seen in this photo I took in 2016.


Image of Place 2 - Outside the Rijksmuseum

Place 2 – Outside the Rijksmuseum

The TFiOS movie includes a moment of musicians playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the portico at the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum of art.  The day I stopped to listen, one of the musicians there played a balalaika.


Image of Place 3 - Amsterdam’s Canals

Place 3 – Amsterdam’s Canals

Another of the movie’s scenes that convey the tourist’s experience of Amsterdam follows Hazel and Gus on a canal boat as it passes under one of the many bridges in the old part of the city.


Image of Place 4 - OBA Oosterdok (Amsterdam Central Library)

Place 4 – OBA Oosterdok (Amsterdam Central Library)

In 2011, John Green won the Amsterdam Writers’ Residency, and he has described writing part of The Fault in Our Stars at the Amsterdam Public Library.  I took this photo from its terrace that overlooks the old city.


Place 5 – Funky Bones, Indianapolis

Sarah Urist Green, former Curator of Contemporary Art at Newfields (then the Indianapolis Museum of Art) in Indiana (USA), played a part in shaping the park adjacent to this Indianapolis museum that is home to Funky Bones, an oversized, outdoor sculpture by Dutch Atelier Van Lieshout.  Playful yet hinting at the time when our bones will lie in the ground, Funky Bones is visited by Green’s fictional characters, actual children, and the occasional author alike.


Image of Place 6 - Lake Mendota, Wisconsin

Place 6 – Lake Mendota, Wisconsin

The first time I shared the research that would become this EHR chapter and a subsequent book was at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin (USA). The biennial conferences hosted by the university’s Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture are notable for their collegiality, research, and lake views.


Image of Turtles All the Way Down Tour

Place 7 – Turtles All the Way Down Tour

John Green’s next novel, Turtles All the Way Down, was published in 2017, while I was in the midst of research on how readers responded to his work.  His brother Hank, whom he partners with to create content for their Vlogbrothers YouTube channel and other platforms, joined him on stage during a tour event in Indianapolis.


Image of Tobias the Cat amongst books.

While all these places shaped my EHR chapter, I spent far more time writing from my home office in the company of my cat, Tobias, than travelling.


About the Author

Jennifer Burek Pierce writes about changes in media for young readers, creating histories of moments in media use that reflect important developments either in library history or contemporary culture. Her current research explores Nerdfighteria and Vlogbrothers’ viewers as communities of readers, emphasizing the ways readers craft their responses to stories.


About the Series

Bringing together the latest scholarship from all over the world on topics ranging from reading practices in ancient China to the workings of the twenty-first-century reading brain, the 4 volumes of the Edinburgh History of Reading demonstrate that reading is a deeply imbricated, socio-political practice, at once personal and public, defiant and obedient.

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