John Reads the First Chapter of Turtles All the Way Down

John Reads the First Chapter of Turtles All the Way Down


Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday and this is the first chapter of Turtles All the Way Down which I’ll be reading to you today. Okay, I think all you need to know is that this story is narrated by a sixteen-year-old girl named Aza Holmes Also it starts with a–with an epigraph from Arthur Schopenhauer: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Chapter One. At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time– between 12:37 and 1:14 P.M.– by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them. If those forces had given me a different lunch period, or if the tablemates who helped author my fate had chosen a different topic of conversation that September day, I would’ve met a different end –or at least a different middle. But I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell. Of course, you pretend to be the author. You have to. You think, ‘I now choose to go to lunch,’ when that monotone beep rings from on high at 12:37. But really, the bell chooses. You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas. Hundreds of voices were shouting over one another in the cafeteria, so that the conversation became mere sound, the rushing of a river over rocks. And as I sat beneath fluorescent cylinders spewing aggressively artificial light, I thought about how we all believed ourselves to be the hero of some personal epic, when in fact we were basically identical organisms colonizing a vast and windowless room that smelled of Lysol and lard. I was eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich and drinking a Dr Pepper. To be honest, I find the whole process of masticating plants and animals and then shoving them down my esophagus kind of disgusting, so I was trying not to think about the fact that I was eating, which is a form of thinking about it. Across the table from me, Mychal Turner was scribbling in a yellow-paper notebook. Our lunch table was like a long-running play on Broadway: The cast changed some over the years, but the roles never did. Mychal was The Artsy One. He was talking with Daisy Ramirez, who’d played the role of my Best and Most Fearless Friend since elementary school, but I couldn’t follow their conversation over the noise of all the others. What was my part in this play? The Sidekick. I was Daisy’s Friend, or Ms. Holmes’s Daughter. I was somebody’s something. I felt my stomach begin to work on the sandwich, and even over everybody’s talking, I could hear it digesting, all the bacteria chewing the slime of peanut butter –the students inside of me eating at my internal cafeteria. A shiver convulsed through me. “Didn’t you go to camp with him?” Daisy asked me. “With who?” “Davis Pickett,” she said. “Yeah,” I said. “Why?” “Aren’t you listening?” Daisy asked. I am listening, I thought, to the cacophony of my digestive tract. Of course I’d long known that I was playing host to a massive collection of parasitic organisms, but I didn’t much like being reminded of it. By cell count, humans are approximately 50 percent microbial, meaning that about half of the cells that make you up are not yours at all. There are something like a thousand times more microbes living in my particular biome than there are human beings on earth, and it often seems like I can feel them living and breeding and dying in and on me. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and tried to control my breathing. Admittedly, I have some anxiety problems, but I would argue it isn’t irrational to be concerned about the fact that you are a skin-encased bacterial colony. Mychal said, “His dad was about to be arrested for bribery or something, but the night before the raid he disappeared. There’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward out for him.” “And you know his kid,” Daisy said. “Knew him,” I answered. I watched Daisy attack her school-provided rectangular pizza and green beans with a fork. She kept glancing up at me, her eyes widening as if to say, ‘Well?’ I could tell she wanted me to ask her about something, but I couldn’t tell what, because my stomach wouldn’t shut up, which was forcing me deep inside a worry that I’d somehow contracted a parasitic infection. I could half hear Mychal telling Daisy about his new art project, in which he was using Photoshop to average the faces of a hundred people named Mychal, and the average of their faces would be this new, one-hundred-and-first Mychal, and it was an interesting idea, and I wanted to listen, but the cafeteria was so loud, and I couldn’t stop wondering whether there was something wrong with the microbial balance of power inside me. Excessive abdominal noise is an uncommon, but not unprecedented, presenting symptom of an infection with the bacteria Clostridium Difficile, which can be fatal. I pulled out my phone and searched “human microbiome” to reread Wikipedia’s introduction to the trillions of microorganisms currently inside me. I clicked over to the article about C. diff, scrolling to the part about how most C. diff infections occur in hospitals. I scrolled down farther to a list of symptoms, none of which I had, except for the excessive abdominal noises, although I knew from previous searches that the Cleveland Clinic had reported the case of one person who’d died of C. diff after presenting at the hospital with only abdominal pain and fever. I reminded myself that I didn’t have a fever, and my self replied: You don’t have a fever YET. At the cafeteria, where a shrinking slice of my consciousness still resided, Daisy was telling Mychal that his averaging project shouldn’t be about people named Mychal but about imprisoned men who’d later been exonerated. “It’ll be easier, anyway,” she said, “because they all have mug shots taken from the same angle, and then it’s not just about names but also about race and class and mass incarceration,” and Mychal was like, “You’re a genius, Daisy,” and she said, “You sound surprised,” and meanwhile I was thinking that if half the cells inside of you are not you, doesn’t that challenge the whole notion of ‘me’ as a singular pronoun, let alone as the author of my fate? And I fell pretty far down that recursive wormhole until it transported me completely out of the White River High School cafeteria into some non-sensorial place only properly crazy people get to visit. Ever since I was little, I’ve pressed my right thumbnail into the finger pad of my middle finger, and so now there’s this weird callus over my fingerprint. After so many years of doing this, I can open up a crack in the skin really easily, so I cover it up with a Band-Aid to try to prevent infection. But sometimes I get worried that there already is an infection, and so I need to drain it, and the only way to do that is to reopen the wound and press out any blood that will come. Once I start thinking about splitting the skin apart, I literally cannot not do it. I apologize for the double negative, but it’s a real double negative of a situation, a bind from which negating the negation is the only escape. So anyway, I started to want to feel my thumbnail biting into the skin of my finger pad, and I knew that resistance was more or less futile, so beneath the cafeteria table, I slipped the Band-Aid off my finger and dug my thumbnail into the calloused skin until I felt it crack open. “Holmesy,” Daisy said. I looked up at her. “We’re almost through lunch and you haven’t even mentioned my hair.” She shook out her hair, with so-red-they-were-pink highlights. Right. She’d dyed her hair. I swum up out of the depths and said, “It’s bold.” “I know, right? It says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen and also people who do not identify as ladies or gentlemen, Daisy Ramirez won’t break her promises, but she will break your heart'” Daisy’s self-proclaimed life motto was “Break Hearts, Not Promises.” She kept threatening to get it tattooed on her ankle when she turned eighteen. Daisy turned back to Mychal, and I to my thoughts. The stomach grumbling had grown, if anything, louder. I felt like I might vomit. For somebody who actively dislikes bodily fluids, I throw up quite a lot. “Holmesy, you okay?” Daisy asked. I nodded. Sometimes I wondered why she liked me, or at least tolerated me. Why any of them did. Even I found myself annoying. I could feel sweat sprouting from my forehead, and once I begin to sweat, it’s impossible to stop. I’ll keep sweating for hours, and not just my face or my armpits. My neck sweats. My boobs sweat. My calves sweat. Maybe I did have a fever. Beneath the table, I slid the old Band-Aid into my pocket and, without looking, pulled out a new one, unwrapped it, and then glanced down to apply it to my finger. All the while, I was breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, in the manner advised by Dr. Karen Singh, exhaling at a pace “that would make a candle flicker but not go out. Imagine that candle, Aza, flickering from your breath but still there, always there.” So I tried that, but the thought spiral kept tightening anyway. I could hear Dr. Singh saying I shouldn’t get out my phone, that I mustn’t look up the same questions over and over, but I got it out anyway, and reread the “Human Microbiota” Wikipedia article. The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely. I sealed the Ziploc bag around the last quarter of my sandwich, got up, and tossed it into an overfilled trash can. I heard a voice from behind me. “How concerned should I be that you haven’t said more than two words in a row all day?” “Thought spiral,” I mumbled in reply. Daisy had known me since we were six, long enough to get it. “I figured. Sorry, man. Let’s hang out today.” This girl Molly walked up to us, smiling, and said, “Uh, Daisy, just FYI, your Kool-Aid dye job is staining your shirt.” Daisy looked down at her shoulders, and indeed, her striped top had turned pink in spots. She flinched for a second, then straightened her spine. “Yeah, it’s part of the look, Molly. Stained shirts are huge in Paris right now.” She turned away from Molly and said, “Right, so we’ll go to your house and watch Star Wars: Rebels.” Daisy was really into Star Wars–and not just the movies, but also the books and the animated shows and the kids’ show where they’re all made out of Lego. Like, she wrote fan fiction about Chewbacca’s love life. “And we will improve your mood until you are able to say three or even four words in a row; sound good?” “Sounds good.” “And then you can take me to work. Sorry, but I need a ride.” “Okay.” I wanted to say more, but the thoughts kept coming, unbidden and unwanted. If I’d been the author, I would’ve stopped thinking about my microbiome. I would’ve told Daisy how much I liked her idea for Mychal’s art project, and I would’ve told her that I did remember Davis Pickett, that I remembered being eleven and carrying a vague but constant fear. I would’ve told her that I remembered once at camp lying next to Davis on the edge of a dock, our legs dangling over, our backs against the rough-hewn planks of wood, staring together up at a cloudless summer sky. I would’ve told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see. Thanks for listening! I’m not gonna lie, I’m very nervous, but I hope that you liked it. If you want to preorder the book, there are links below. Hank, I will see you on Friday.

100 thoughts on “John Reads the First Chapter of Turtles All the Way Down

  1. Just finished the book. I think it's your best so far, John. Thank you! I guess you can say 'You're welcome' 😆

  2. Before watching this I was thinking too much about buying it because it's kind of expensive for me, but now I just have to buy it. It's worth it.

  3. It's like something that costs too much on the internet to listen to, FOR FREE. Thanks, John. (Okay, I want to remove the "too" 'cause the money you'd pay would totally be worth this beautiful experience.)

  4. Okay, so you are never going to read this but I just want to thank you. I have been struggling with my mental health for years and I have always been suffering in silence, which has been killing me slowly and I have probably reached my worst this time around. I finished TATWD last night and I realized that maybe it's time for me to get help. You got help, Aza got help , so why should I keep doing this to myself? So today I wrote dozens of emails to several therapists in my area, asking for their help. Maybe one of them will help me get my shit together after 21 years.
    Thank you so much. You saved my life.

  5. Johns man voice
    "And then I took my bra off" (from the 2011 video) popped in my head when he said "boob sweat" lmao. I still thoroughly enjoy the narration though.

  6. Notice me, John Green! T^T I made a vlog about Turtles All The Way Down and The Fault in our Stars!! If anybody out there would like to watch it too, here it is: https://youtu.be/COAx3ELhNaE

  7. I am listening to the audiobook for Turtles All of the Way Diwn, and although Kate Rudd did a great job narrating it, I would prefer to listen to John read it.

  8. do you have any words of wisdom for teens like me who love to write books for fun and get lots of readers for it but still think that they're not trying hard enough?

  9. Hi ! I am French, and I love your books, they are great, I devour them, I read them often very quickly and when I start one, I can not stop. They fascinate me. I'm reading Turtles all the way down and
    I am absorbed in my reading. I'm trying to understand the video but it's difficult for me, I'm only 14 years old but I want to understand so much. maybe one day I'll be able to read your books in English. I'm sorry for my English .Thank you for everything

  10. I am literally in love with the book and when I thought that I couldn't love it anymore than I already do I heard this. I badly want John Green to read aloud the entire story. It sounds perfect!

  11. ITS MY FAVOURITE BOOK !!!! Congrats John Green this book is AMAZING and UNIQUE and I can totally compare me with Aza and the way she tries to find herself and made me see that it’s not incomum to think like Aza or like me as doctor Singh said…thank you so much for this book it means all to me

  12. I just read it and I loved it, one of my favorites of all times <3 thanks for this book, John and thanks for sharing your heart on it.

  13. I still love this so much because you can hear the slight lisp in his voice and I love that he has a slight lisp; wow I love John Green.

  14. Oh my gosh. You can see what happens inside my brain! It's amazing!! No one else can, they only guess. Some of them guess better than others, but still, they don't know. I try to explain but I can't. But this happens to me! Not in exactly the same way, but this happens to me. I feel a whole lot less weird and alone now – thank you 🙂 (I was diagnosed with OCD 15 years ago).

  15. i have just one thing I have on my budget list, and it is to read all you books, jear I'm a really big fan and you inspire me. I´ve already read "turtles all the way down", "paper towns" and "the fault in our stars" and now I´m reading "An abundance of Katherines". But I´m from Denmark so the translation is a bit diffrent, I mean example is Daisys motto "faithful and faithless" instead of "break hearts not promises", jear I know it is the same in the end, but the English version is the best:))

  16. I LOVE IT I mean my dreams are true now a new book I was waiting for it! I live in Peru so it's hard to find your book and it's hard also find books in english so I don't know when I will be able to get it but I promise you I will do it as fast as possible!

  17. Why does it sound sadder than the actual reading of the book? It's like he's narrating his experience through the characters' thoughts.

  18. Hey Mr.Green! Just letting you know one of your signed books with a hanklerfish ended up in my shelf in Nepal. Thankyou!

  19. Of COUrse I liked it. I loved it! And it’s the second time I see it (I’m currently reading the book). Anyway, just want to tell you that I find very interesting and involving and deep in a light way what you write. And I don’t know what it is, if it’s just an impression, or if it’s me appreciating the EXACT choice of words, which makes each text totally different, that made me like the text in English even more. (I feel like the “magic” of a text that touches someone has it because of the content but also because of the good, and sometimes hard, choice of words)/// (I am reading the book in Portuguese and even though the translation of the words is almost equal, the text I just heard passed again, and a little bit more, that feeling of magic.)

  20. This book came out on my birthday, and John Green is my favorite author. So, getting this beautiful, beautiful book gift wrapped in my hands on none other than October 10th was a dream come true and a dream worth dreaming… the book was amazing and a great way for me to understand what people with higher levels of anxiety than my own (I have moderate) feel like and go through in everyday situations. Thank you so much for this literary treasure. You are definitely an inspiration to this aspired writer. ❤️
    (it was a signed copy and I almost fell out of my chair in surprise and happiness when I saw the signature)

  21. Oh my word! Or your word… all the words anyways. It's a beautiful baby, I can't wait to read the rest

  22. This at least my fifth time listening to this. Despite having read the book when it came out. The first chapter is just so gripping and hearing it from you John takes it to another level

  23. Guys, does someone know what is the song in the second chapel on the beginning? Aza and Daisy sang this song in Harold

  24. dude, this was really powerful. I 100% know exactly what it feels like to be the main character. I used to suffer from a lot of anxiety disorders and that was an astoundingly accurate monologue.

  25. Finished the book a few days ago. I have to say, I was absolutely floored and thought of nothing else this week. And yes, your description of OCD was very powerful and moving. But there was so much more that impressed me. First, as a nurse, your description of C. diff. was way more accurate and described better than I would have expected coming from a non-medical person, and I have seen plenty of patients with C. diff (I have never contracted it. Wash your hands with soap and water, people, if you wind up in a hospital or at risk for C. diff. Hand sanitizer will do nothing for you in the case of C. diff). Second, am I allowed to talk about Davis? I have never seen a more accurate description of the thoughts and actions of a teenager whose parent is a criminal/on the run from the law. When I was a teenager, my father went to prison, my mother had her own issues, so I was left in a weird half parental/half sister role to my younger siblings. It was hard, helping my sisters through everything, while I was basically still a kid myself, and trying to make sense of everything going on, just like Davis. I may have been living in a small rural town and from a blue collar family, and not the daughter of a billionaire, but when I read about Davis and what he was going through, it was like looking at my life ten years ago.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know, this book took my breath away and I think you touched people in ways you probably couldn't have imagined.

  26. Thanks John for writing the book, I finished reading it today and I felt like I was in their world the whole time. I liked it a lot and wanted to be in their world. It comforted me to know that other people thought similar things to me. You described the way we sometimes feel so well so thank you for that.

  27. Glorious, thank you for your enduring hard work. Wonderful word skills, imaginative clever, inspirational endearing, insightful, love you comical timing. Coming of age. Kids voices can logically swim everywhere in thoughts and it sticks. You stories read real and believable.

  28. You read for 1:14 and I paused you and bought it online. I love that I can see you, an amazing author, read us part of your the first chapter of your book! You're awesome and I've always loved Hank on SciShow but to reveal you're brothers was fab for me. I may have had a wee tear of wonder for this tiny blue dot that we all live on.

  29. John Green! There is a way out of thought spirals! I also suffered from OCD for years but got rid of it thanks to a wonderful meditation technique called Vipassana. Give it a try, you may be surprised. It has helped so many people around the globe with different mental problems.

  30. Regardless of how many times I read it, TWATWD always makes me sob. Never thought there could be such an amazing articulation of my experiences.

  31. I read this book chapter by chapter in a bookstore a few minutes from were I live (sorry I could not buy it). It was strange reading the scaffolding of my own obsessive thoughts with different subject matter.

  32. John I wish I could read this book, but I'm afraid it already sounds too much like my own internal monologue that I spend hours trying to drown out every day. I don't know if I could keep the panic attacks at bay if forced back into my head, or at least into a book similar enough to my own head that I would have trouble distinguishing between the two. I can already tell it is a beautiful book that will hopefully build a foundation for a little more empathy and kindness towards people who struggle with this stuff.

  33. I know i‘m a bit late, possibly too late but hi.

    I was at the library today and i haven’t read single book in years. I have all of your books at home though haha.
    Thing is, i didnt know about this book until today, i just picked it up and literally screamed because i saw it was written by your creative ass.

    I fUCKING love it. I just can‘t express how much i fell in love with Aza, Davis and Daisy. I‘m sorry i love tfios and lfa with all of my heart and all of your other books, but im not gonna lie, this is by far the best novel you‘ve ever written.

    I loved the way you described her anxiety, i could relate to her a lot and im sure other could too. The overthinking everything. Finished the book after 2h because i could not stop reading it (i also had no time cause the library closed at 7pm and i don‘t have the money to get any books anymore)

    You motivated me again. I wanna read again. I‘m gonna move to that library. Read all of your books again.

    Thank you for everything.

    Greetings from Germany🥰

  34. I'm sitting on my bed reading along with my copy of turtles on my lap while listening to his voice and I'm just so strangely happy about it.

  35. I read this book for school a year ago, on a recommendation from my therapist, and it's gutrenchingly relatable and thought provoking. I too struggle with anxiety about disease infection, and it was comforting to read the thoughts of someone who knows the feeling.

  36. I haven’t read turtles all the way down yet but this sounds so familiar I’m going out and buying it tomorrow

  37. I think I'm going to listen to the audio books of all the john green books I've read this summer, as long as they're narrated by John. The way you read your books makes the story clearer and I feel more connected to it. Which is weird coz usually hearing a story in your head whilst you read is the strongest connection to a story you can get for me

  38. "I mean, anybody can look at you. It's quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see."

    my favorite line!

  39. I got so psyched when I saw "Turtles All the Way Down" at my local Meijer's. (I'm buying ASAP) I was like – "It's. John. Green's. Book. *cue scream*" It was so hard to explain to my friends because they had no idea about you or Nerdfighteria, but it was a very happy moment for me.

  40. I appreciate this cause sometimes my ocd makes me feel crazy and I feel more validated
    Dont know if i could read the whole book though cause then i might think too much about my ocd

  41. Paranoid delusions suck, like when you 100% believe a secret society is watching you with hidden cameras in your house. And they are going to murder you any day now, and they are sneaking into your house when you are not there and poisoning you bed with a powder that makes you look mad so that nobody believes you. You believe only you can see it and everyone around you cant see what is happening. Of course it is a one way ticket to getting sectioned under the mental health act if you don't get better quickly and start acting normal

  42. Thought from just a few moments into this video: Thank God this video is captioned! Aza sounds exactly like Hazel to my Hard of Hearing ears. So, thank you to the nerdfighter(s) who captioned it!

  43. I’ve never read a book that gets my thought process like this book does. i can’t even imagine what it’s like to not think like this because i’ve always thought like this.

  44. You'll never read this but I needed to say this, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you, a thousand times. Anxiety and the disorder it carries have been companies of mine for a few years now, and this 16 year old is beyond grateful that once in her life she can relate to a character as much as she does to Aza. I finally feel listened, I'm not invisible anymore… it's in my top five favorite books of all time, definitely. Thank you again.

  45. This is what I needed to convince me to go ahead and spend my, albeit small, college student budgeted savings on your book. Can’t wait to hear the rest of it. Thanks John

  46. This video is quite old so I probably won’t get an answer but, I wonder if it was triggering for him to write the book. To think so deeply about the things he tries not to think about.

  47. So don't waste your mind on nursery rhymes

    Or fairy tales of blood and wine

    It's turtles all the way down the line

    So to each their own 'til we go home

    To other realms our souls must roam

    To and through the myth that we all call space and time

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