Another Green Book

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, was published in 2006. It was his second novel. It was the fourth novel by John Green that I have read.

The first sentence of An Abundance of Katherines is: “The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

Colin has dated nineteen girls in his life. All of them are named Katherine. All of them dumped him. Colin’s parents are sympathetic and offer support.

Colin is a prodigy, but not a genius. The book explains the difference: “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; Geniuses do.” Colin wishes he was a genius. He decides that all he needs is one “eureka” moment to become a genius.

His best, and only, friend, Hassan Harbish, convinces Colin that what they need is a road trip. It will help Colin get over Katherine XIX, explains Hassan, and could possibly result in that “eureka” moment.

Colin’s parents think a road trip is a terrific idea. Colin has to lie to Hassan’s parents to get them to agree.

So Colin and Hassan leave Chicago on a road trip in Colin’s car – an enormous gray Oldsmobile named “Satan’s Hearse”. They get as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet a 17-year-old girl named Lindsey Lee Wells, who has dated only one boy in her life – a boy named Colin (whom Colin and Hassan name The Other Colin, or TOC). Colin and Hassan are employed by Lindsey’s mother, who owns a factory which manufactures tampon strings. Their job is to interview the residents of Gutshot for a history book Hollis (Lindsey’s mother) is writing.

Colin and Hassan adjust to their new lives in Gutshot, Tennessee. Colin works on a formula of past Katherines. He hopes to use it to chart the course of all romantic relationships, and produce his eureka moment.

Colin Singleton has a gift for words. He speaks eleven languages. He’s a genius at anagrams. (Although, as Lindsey points out, he makes words out of other words, but doesn’t invent new words, which makes him a prodigy, not a genius.) He once memorized the first ninety-nine digits of pi and then constructed a ninety-nine word sentence with the first letter of each word corresponding to the digits of pi. (The sentence begins with: “Catfish always drink alcoholic ether if begged…”)

Hassan Harbish is a practicing Muslim, who constantly teases Colin about his lack of religion. Hassan practices his own, unique version of Islam, however: He believes that alcohol is haram, for example, but drinking only half a can of beer with the local Gutshot kids should be allowed. Hassan is also a slacker, with no plans for college, or anything else in his life. He figures that his father is rich enough that he doesn’t have to do anything.

An Abundance of Katherines is a funny and touching novel. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is not always believable, but it’s a comedy that doesn’t try to be entirely realistic. The book is clever, and makes humorous use of footnotes. (The Libby app handles footnotes well, by the way.) Sometimes a footnote will add additional information, like explaining who Archduke Franz Ferdinand was, or will go off on a tangent, like providing a brief history of television, or will just add a comment like “It’s true.”, or will contain the entire ninety-nine word sentence Colin wrote. There’s a lot of seemingly random trivia in this book.

Midway through the novel, I became curious about whether Gutshot, Tennessee is a real town, or not. As I suspected, it’s a fictional place. I did find something interesting in my search, however: There’s a list on Goodreads named “Books set in Gutshot, Tennessee”. The list contains just one book.

I want to read another John Green novel, but a different book has arrived at the library for me.

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