Twitter + Literature = Twitterature?

Classics and bestsellers are rarely left to ..er.. rest on their popularity. The moment they become popular, an entire line of copycat books (which also hope to become a classic one day, or at least the next bestseller) are published. Then come the attempts to make a film or a TV serial (or both) based on the classic/bestseller. Parodies of the classics are not too far behind in getting published or filmed. Then you have the critiques and the re-interpretations of these popular books. And with the social media boom, it is not surprising that some of these books are being tailored or re-written to fit that criteria (for example, click here to read a Facebook version of the Mahabharata, and here to read a  Facebook version of the Ramayana).

With the Twitter boom, can its influence on literature be far behind? Not at all, and this is where two teenagers, Alexander Aciman and Emmet  Rensin, rewrote over 80 classics and some recent bestsellers as a series of tweets. And thus was Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter born.

Twitterature (Penguin Books, 2009, pp. xiv + 146) is an attempt at “facing and understanding … the greatest art of all arts: Literature” through Twitter. The authors, both 19-year-old students at the University of Chicago at the time of publication of the book, wrote it with the intention of mastering “the literature of the civilized world, while relieving [the reader of] the burdensome task of reading it” in its original form. In other words, Twitterature is a retelling of literature in the form of tweet stories in Twitter language.

Aciman and Rensin have taken a wide range of classics for their Twitterature endeavour. Greek classics (Oedipus, The Iliad, Lysistrata, The Aeneid), Russian literature (Anna Karenina, Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment), French Literature (The Three Musketeers), Shakespeare (King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest), English Literature (The Old Man and the Sea, Emma, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes), and many more can be found as tweet stories in this book.

Each classic featured in Twitterature has been rewritten in a series of tweets with the author of each book getting an appropriate and extremely creative twitter handle. For example, Crime and Punishment’s Fyodor Dostoevsky is @RobPeterPayPaul, while Moby Dick’s Herman Melville is @greatwhitetale, and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is @TheRealDesparateHousewife. Some books have more than one twitter handle as in the case of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: @JulieBaby and @DefNotaHomeo.

The tweet stories in Twitterature are a mixed bag. Some tweets work…

Usually a man wills his home to his wife or kids. But sometimes he wills it to a distant relative, so when he dies you’re out on your ass. (@FirstThoughtBestThought, Pride and Prejudice)

My royal father gone and nobody seems to care. (@OedipusGothplex, Hamlet)

@Montague @Capulet Can’t we all just get along? (@DefNotaHomeo, Romeo and Juliet)

Robert Downey Jr Playing me in a film? Totally cool. Perfect. (@KeepDiggingWatson, Sherlock Holmes)

I wish my parents had died impressively. Like Harry Potter; that kid has got one hell of an orphan story. (@ToEyreIsHuman, Jane Eyre)

… and some tweets don’t:

A former student of mine called. He wants me to do a house call. (@BleedingGums, Dracula)

The walk was a bad idea. I met a prisoner who demanded bread and a file. He looks like a pederast. And a murderer. Amber Alert? (@piMp, Great Expectations)

Each story in Twitterature is told in about 20 or so tweets. The language is contemporary, informal, wicked, irreverent, politically incorrect, sexist, and has just about everything that will appeal to a young reader. It is also full of acronyms generally used in Twitter, for which the authors have very thoughtfully provided a glossary to serve as

a guide to this book’s obscure and esoteric terminologies and idioms for the benefit of luddites and old-timers that they may understand and enjoy the humor and wordplay herein contained. (pg. 134)

The authors claim that by presenting the classics as tweet stories, one is relieved of the burden of actually reading them in the original. Now, I haven’t read all the books in this collection, and particularly none from the Greek Literature collection. But because I know the gist of those stories, I could follow the tweet stories. But for those books which I have not read like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the tweet stories did not convey anything. But the tweet stories of the ones that I have read were highly enjoyable, especially Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, The Tempest, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Though Twitterature is a mixed bag as a book, I must confess that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have loved to see some more classics and some of my favourite books (for example, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, How Green was My Valley) in this collection. It is a great book to get a conversation going as also a book that could be used as an inspiration for party games !The title of the book could not be more apt as it IS a heady cocktail of literature and twitter to become Twitterature.

P.S.: If you wish to read the full tweet stories of Hamlet, The Da Vinci Code, and Harry Potter (1-7), click here :-)

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19 thoughts on “Twitter + Literature = Twitterature?

  1. That sounds like a fun collection of tweets and I have bookmarked the link for reading later. Condensing a whole classic in 20 tweets must surely be a tall order and one can’t expect those who haven’t read the originals to grasp even the gist of the story. But as you say, it is something novel and in a day when everything is being trivialised in the name of social networking, why not the classics and if it provides some entertainment in the bargain, why ever not?

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    • It IS an interesting concept and the authors must be commended for coming out with an entire collection of tweet stories. And yes, Twitterature is great entertainment, at least some of them !

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  2. What a wonderful topic you have picked up and how well you explained it. An interesting concept. In the past we had literature through comic books. And now we have through tweets. There is no end to innovation

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    • I missed out on the comic books part, Ravi. Thank you for bringing that to my notice and also for your comment. I’m actually surprised that nobody had thought of Twitterature before !

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  3. I had already read an article about this somewhere in the news or on the web, but this blog post made me read about Twitterature a little more, and guess what these guys are not the first, nor are they going to be the last to do this. There are a lot of others out there who are experimenting on all kinds of things combining literature and Twitter, and Twitter and a whole lot of other things.

    In any case, wonderful post. Keep going.

    Cheers……….mahabore

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  4. Thanks but no thanks… I’m going to stick to the book versions of my favorites… I can’t even do the Kindle..Twitterature will take me decades to get used to :(

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    • Awww… Meera. Where is your sense of adventure? :-P Twitterature is a good read with the purpose of eliciting a good many laughs. Read it with that purpose in mind and read the original for the stories :-)

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  5. Pingback: Twitterature – Can you tweet me a story? « the world azis

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