Skip to main content

Twitterature: The end of an era?

Introducing Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter by UChicago students Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin, published by the eminent Penguin Books label. When I first read about this book in a 'new books' feature in the paper, I expected not a...well, classic...but at least a fun read, complete with wit and intelligent puns. What I got instead was a load of school college boy humour involving tons of sexual - well, it can hardly be called innuendo, for that would point to some little subtlety at least - so, sexual 'references', and a pile of four letter swear words that are repetitive and very non-creative at best. If anything, the book at least managed to reinforce my belief that nothing good could ever come of anything Twitter. As I've constantly maintained, I think Twitter is just rather pointless. The fact that it's now being used for other more "useful" purposes like companies keeping clients involved or whatever is only because of the large fan user base that it has garnered - which can hardly be a testimony to its credentials, for we all know that if something is considered 'fashionable', it catches like the plague. In a world where communication is fast becoming a thing of the past, I hardly think challenging people to write perfect 140-character sentences - and I am open to discussions on this topic - serves any purpose.

So what is the fuss all about? This hilarious article by Emmett Rensin talks about how this revolutionary book has brought about an end to the Western Civilisation as we know it - satire, yes, you guessed it. What started out as a joke between two friends at university assumed humungous proportions when people began to fret about how it was going to change the world of literature forever. Some people really need to relax. This book was not meant to be used as a study guide to pass exams or to replace the original - if you're not already familiar with the story, trust me, you're not going to be. It's just supposed to be a huge joke, but I really don't find it funny. Throughout the 133 pages of "tweets" I must have grinned about 10 times and laughed not even once. They seem to have gone for easy, cliched and often rather boisterous jokes than actually trying to parody the stories.

Consider, for instance, Frankenstein:

"Jeez, this monster is killing people. Wonder if this will be more professionally embarrassing than getting caught with a black hooker?"


"This killing is getting way out of control. You know, like a mistress you can't shut up?"


The biggest disappointment for me, personally, was Homer's Iliad. Much as I love it, I enjoy watching and reading adaptations and spoofs on it - it has SO much potential for hilarity. If you're really looking for laughs, try this for an *amazing* spoof of the Brad Pitt starring (excuse of a) movie Troy.

The glossary was supposedly brilliant according to some reviews but after repeated references to f*cking someone's wife/neighbour/sister/mother that manage to creep into every definition, it becomes quite a drag. I mean, sex jokes are only funny so many times.

Anyway, apart from the fact that whole world seems to find it hilarious and the work of a genius (I've read countless comments to countless reviews) there are only a few people who seem to think that the joke is on Twitter itself. Will Hammond (editor at Viking) says that while the book relies on the mockery of the grandiose character and plot oddities and cliches of these 'classics':

"the difference, though, and what makes this little collection particularly enjoyable, is that the joke falls just as heavily (well, probably more so) on Twitter. In a face-off between Shakespeare's Macbeth and his Twitter avatar 'BigMac', it's fairly clear who comes off looking worse. So, in a curious way, Twitterature is just as much a celebration of the classics as it is a mockery of them." 

Interesting view, and not one that many seem to have grasped - with little blame to them - it's rather well-concealed. However, although I wouldn't go so far as to call the authors the Swifts of our time (read this) - I think the whole point lies in the definition of Twitter given in the introduction:

"the social networking tool that with its limit of 140 characters a post (including spaces) has refined to its purest form the instant-publishing, short-attention-span, all-digital-all-the-time, self-important age of info-deluge"

and their claim to give us everything we need to master the literature of the civilised world. You can't miss the huge mocking grin behind these statements.

So I'll agree with certain individuals in maintaining that Twitterature is a good enough idea - poorly executed.

I really don't think we need to worry. Yet.