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Twitterature

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Thursday, Feb 4, 2010
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Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

Alexander Aciman and Emmett L. Rensin

(Penguin; US: Dec 2009)

Twitterature:  The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less is really funny. If you don’t think about it too much.


Twitterature is what you get when you combine great literature and the social networking program, Twitter. Authors and University of Chicago students Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin coined the term and provide a more formal definition: “amalgamation of ‘twitter’ and ‘literature’; humorous reworkings of literary classics for the 21st century intellect, in digestible portions of 20 tweets of fewer”.


Aciman and Rensin turn over 70 classic texts along with Twilight and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” into twitterature. Most pieces are narrated (or tweeted) by the main character of the original text, but these characters have been adapted to the Twitter world. Gulliver’s Travels is narrated by @LittleBigMan and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is narrated by @NotoriousDOC. Romeo and Juliet has two narrators: @DefNotAHomeo and @JulieBaby.


Several of the entries are quite clever. Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, narrated by @bugged-out, is particularly well done with tweets like “Sorry no updates. Bug time is weird. Lose track” and “REPEAT: THERE IS AN APPLE LODGED IN MY ... BACK!” With lines like “I am a strange old man. Perhaps I will grow a beard” and “I have caught a fish, and he is grand”, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea also translates nicely into tweets.


My personal favorite, though, has to be On the Road. It contains only one tweet, which reads “For TWITTERATURE of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, please see On the Road by Jack Kerouac”.


Still, I can only enjoy the book Twitterature if I don’t think about it too much. If I start thinking about it too much, I start worrying: what if twitterature is the only way great literature can be understood by today’s high school and college students? What if, as the authors assert, no one has time to read “those big long books anymore”? What if, again as Aciman and Rensin claim, Twitterature gives “you everything you need to master the literature of the civilized world”? These thoughts bring about the usual clichéd responses: my heart races, my palms turn clammy, and I break into a light sweat.


Even worse, when I start thinking about Twitterature too much, I start analyzing the tweets, and I wonder if a modern day Pip (Great Expectations) would really curse that much or whether or not the twitterature version of King Lear would have been stronger if it would have included tweets from @fool.


In the end, I have to believe, if only to save my own sanity, that Twitterature was written as a satire and that Aciman and Rensin are this generation’s Jonathan Swift. If I believe this, I can believe that when they state “In brief—and we mean this literally—we have created our generation’s salvation, a new and revolutionary way of facing and understanding the greatest art of all arts: Literature”, they are really silently laughing at all the students in the world who will probably try to pass exams and write papers based off what they learned from Twitterature.


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