Twitterature: It’s what’s on the syllabus.

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: On Publishing, On Reading

This Wall St. Journal blog begins with “Do you hear that? It’s the sound of Shakespeare, rolling over in his grave.” That’s because it’s about a new book, Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books, Now Presented in Twenty Tweets or Less, forthcoming from Penguin Classics, which is, according to its web site, “A humorous retelling of works of great literature in Twitter format written by two 19-year old University of Chicago freshmen.”

Why can’t college freshman just get drunk and pass out somewhere, like we used to?

Just kidding. But still, as the author’s web site states, their book is “the beginning of a literary movement,” which scares me just a little. Don’t get me wrong: I use Twitter (and sometimes I even like it). But not as a substitute for reading (!!!). As the authors write on their web site, “as great as the classics are, who has time to read those big, long books anymore?” Well, let’s hope a few of us still do.

To be honest, I can’t wait to see this book. I’ve already witnessed the changes in undergraduates’ ideas of what writing (and spelling) is in this new digital era, and this book promises to be even more enlightening. For today’s students, “Twitter is the hip, the young, the everything,” according to the Twitterature authors, and they envision the book as “hipster’s Cliff Notes.”

Of course I’m (just barely) out of their demographic (18 to 35), but this does make me wonder if anyone under the age of 35 actually reads books anymore. What’s interesting is that these two authors, despite the fact that they want to reduce great literature to tweets, seem to have strong literary backgrounds — and I can’t help thinking how much I’d rather see new work from them rather than tweets of work we already know and love. Then again, they know what we all do: that this project is going to be far more lucrative.


  Comments: 9

  1. …and it’s all about Twitter these days.

    Check out Paul Constant’s review of Twitter (written in 140-character paragraphs; of course!) in The Stranger:

    …and Southern California Review features a dialogue (in 140-character bursts; of course!) with Dom Sagolla, Twitter’s ninth user and author of 140 Characters:

  2. Carole, I’m loving all your comments — thank you! I, too, feel that Twitter succeeds best as a marketing tool (i.e., I’m using it to make connections and find writers/readers/opportunities far more than I use it to keep up with friends) … and for that reason I’m very open about followers and followees. (And yes, I get all sorts of unsavory followers, who seem to go away eventually, or at least a few of them have.) But I also discover wonderful new things, often by people finding me before I find them, so with the poachers come the good folks. At any rate, I’m glad you found me! And thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights.

  3. As you can see from my recent post, I still have a lot of questions about Twitter (as do a lot of other people I speak to as well).

    On a positive note, as I stated, what Twitter gets right is: knowing and capitalizing on the fact that the need to write is primal. However, condensing our thoughts into 140 characters as a habitual form of writing is concerning to me in terms of the long-term implications to our language. Like most writers, I have a reverence for the written word. I’m a fan of people who, like yourself, tweet a website link where there’s great writing and thought-provoking topics which cause me to reflect upon the path that the written word is taking.

    I bumped into your website because of Twitter (another prop for Twitter). When Twitter is used as a guidepost like that, it fulfills a valuable purpose. However, I’m not sure if it’s a social networking site or a marketing tool. Maybe that shouldn’t matter or does it?

    As a marketing tool for legitimate business or legitimate content, I think Twitter succeeds (which is why I follow a lot of newspapers on Twitter). In fact, I think Twitter is helping to revive some newspapers as they increasingly shift their content online and provide links on Twitter to articles.

    Here’s where Twitter’s marketing aspect/power does matter: when it’s abused. Many of my Twitter followers have been less than savory to put in mildly. I’ve gone onto my account and seen links to outrageous photos that I wouldn’t want anyone to bump into through me/my Twitter account. Because of that, I modifed my Twitter account to only accept people I approve. I had hoped to be more “open” on Twitter: to use it as an anthropological experiment to see what new things might come my way and to encourage others I know to join as I undertook this experiment, but I had to tell others to beware, to be selective of followers instead.

    So, the conundrum for me (and maybe others?) — I have been besieged with offensive content on Twitter, but I have also bumped into great websites like yours which is why I continue to wrestle with Twitter, to write about my concerns, and hope that others will continue to do the same.

    The fact that Twitter is a democratic forum which allows me to express my thoughts is, of course, another plus. The fact that Twitter is a conversation starter, is also a good thing. The types of conversations we want to start are of course based on personal preferences, but 140 character seems merely like a conversation opener, not a complete conversation.

    The fact that Twitter allows me to express my opinions, whether they sound disgruntled to some, or, as in this case, point to some of the positive aspects of Twitter, again demonstrates that Twitter, at least for me, jolts something very primal in me to write, to question, to think, and to consider the world around me.

    My hope is that in expressing what I like or dislike about Twitter, I will help contribute to Twitter’s evolution. From a market research aspect what Twitter has done is brilliant. To understand how Twitter is succeeding, what is working for them, and what is not, all they have to do is scan their members’ tweets. And again, on a positive note, they have shut down the unsavory types who tried to latch onto me (perhaps after reading a tweet in which I pointed out that the scam artists were poaching “open” members like me). Warning other people to be selective about followers was something I learned the hard way. Sharing that with others as a cautionary measure, was a service I, as a Twitter member, felt compelled to share with others on Twitter in order to protect them.

    Wishing you continued success on your website, Midge.

    Carole Flynn

  4. …and if you’re a disgruntled writer, beware: Twitter can make it all-too-easy to express your feelings toward your reviewers:

  5. Maybe I’m in the demographic that is also cranky about Twitter. How can the plot of a book, the nuances of a book’s characters, or the subtleties of the voice and tone of an author be incorporated into 140 characters?

    What about grammar, spelling, and punctuation? They are the constants that unify the written word and make it easier for us to understand what the writer is trying to convey or communicate.

    Tweeting is editing at its absolute worst. Forget about calling it tweeting or twittering, how about calling it twediting? It causes the writer to pare thoughts down into meaningless minutia or incomprehensible garb (that’s tweeting for garbage). I’ve wasted more time trying to say something in 140 characters than I have writing something comprehensible (and even sometimes amusing and enlightening) when I’m not shackled by such an anemic character count.

    If I put a Carrie Bradshaw spin on things, the best question I can ask is…

    As the world around us has become filled with infinite amounts of information and data, is this pared down twediting a backlash against everything we are bombarded with? Or is it an onslaught of yet more information in smaller and more frequent doses? Is it a writing addiction or a chronicling addition? What if twediting were a grassroots movement in which we’ll move from incoherent phrases, to full sentences, to complete paragraphs, to cohesive essays? If so, how can we band together and remove the duct tape that has mysteriously been tightly wound around our hands? (Tweeters: this is a metaphor. Methaphors can only be explained in a span of more than 140 characters).

    How can we type with painfully bound fingers? Oh. With bound fingers, we will type in short bursts. Our fingers will flail around the keyboard. We will hit the wrong keys, but it will cause us so much pain, we won’t care. We will only care about brevity to keep the pain at a minimum.

    Carrie Bradshaw-like conclusion: The need to write is primal. Twitter, in fact, proves this, but moving beyond the “need” to write should be the “desire” to write something meaningful that resonates with others. Maybe once we free ourselves from the duct tape that binds us into blind character count submission; our contorted sticky fingers will heal. Then, maybe we can write again instead of merely twediting.

    Carole Flynn

  6. Ryan Asmussen

    Just sent you an e-mail re FE, and put a link to your blog on my own. Return the favor?

  7. Mary V. Kolar

    I twittered once. I felt stupid. I deleted all the downloads and then deleted My Space and live comfortably on Facebook. I joined and spend my ‘idle’ time comfortably in the company of other artists. Oh..Hiya Midge..long time no chat!

  8. Sean Truman Farley

    I don’t twitter. Is that bad? It’s been this huge thing lately, and I can’t say I’m stumped: I jumped on the Myspace and Facebook bandwagon. But books as tweets? Please. Freshman really should just get drunk and pass out somewhere (but then again, they’ll probably be laughing all the way to the bank, and we all know that doesn’t happen very often).