Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: Twitterature

December 23, 2009



Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin (Penguin) bears the following definition on its wonderfully textured cover (along with a pretty entertaining little sketch of a bird):

n: amalgamation of “twitter” and “literature;” humorous reworkings of literary classics for the twenty-first-century intellect, in digestible portions of 20 tweets or fewer

My knee-jerk reaction to this is, of course, “Thank God my intellect formed in the twentieth century,” but aside from that, it’s clear that this is not a book of humor conceived to be placed solely on the backs of toilets. Whether you love or hate Twitter, the classics, or any combination of the two, media are changing, and Twitterature is a clear, lighthearted sign that the classics are still along for the ride. Whether or not one agrees with this treatment is really beside the point; it’s clear that classic literature can survive the tests of time and irreverence.  Besides, there’s no such thing as bad press, right?
The classics included span from The Iliad of Homer to Moore’s Watchmen, encompassing oral tradition, Greek and Shakespearian theatre, the novel, poetry of every variety, graphic novels, and even the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The omniscient narrator in many of these works has been replaced by the titular character or other storyteller, for the most part. The tweets follow the real-life Twitter formula of 140 characters or less, and there’s a glossary to explain the terms to the less text message-savvy readers. An excellent sample tweet appears on the back cover:


My personal favorite, however, is the perfectly dead-pan tweet "For TWITTERATURE of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, please see On the Road by Jack Kerouac." Not every tweet is as funny, however, and a few fall dismally flat, but thankfully, the authors understand the importance of not attempting to make every post the most hilarious joke you’ve ever heard. Regardless of the subject matter, each tweeted work is intended to amuse, but not to the extent that the bug-man of Metamorphosis thinks the apple lodged in his back is hysterical. Much of the humor hinges on situational irony, making the tweeted form of classics the reader is familiar with much funnier than the ones that are not. There is enough of each story in every selection that a reader may follow along easily, however.

Since the subject matter is classic literature, it’s important to note that the plots are occasionally inaccurate, and in the case of Beowulf wholly incorrect. Another stumbling block occurs in the lengthier works, with tweets following plot points closely, which makes a few of the selections sound more like tweeted book reports instead of novels. In other places, the voicing feels generic, with narrators sounding interchangeable. This weakness is most likely unavoidable; by using one format to unify such diverse works, all with the intent to amuse, a certain amount of uniformity is bound to appear. Being fairly unfamiliar with Twitter,  I would hazard a guess that the same constraints produce similar results in the real world.

Whether you love or hate the premise of the book, Twitterature is everything you think it will be and a little more. Penguin knew this to begin with and so put quotes like this one right on the cover:

“Do you hear that?  It’s the sound of Shakespeare, rolling over in his grave.”
— The Wall Street Journal

I recommend this book to anyone who loves Twitter and reading, has a Kindle or nook, or thought the Jane Eyre skit on SNL was funnier than Ashlee Simpson’s lip-synching disaster. I especially recommend this book to anyone who has a friend double-majoring in Medieval Literature and Classical Studies.

One final note:  don’t skip the glossary. It’s the funniest thing in the book.


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