Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: "Twitterature"

There are many things that seem great on paper but fail to live up to their potential. This sentence sums up my thoughts on Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets of Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin. In theory, the idea seems like it would be vastly entertaining; the very idea of condensing the classics into tweets seems ripe for humor. Unfortunately, to say that the book was underwhelming might be a little too kind.

Let me start with what Aciman and Rensin get right. The book occasionally has a keen sense of humor. The book's glossary is entertaining and informative, particularly for those who aren't completely conversant in the text/ tweet speak. Also, some of the individual tweets of the books are pretty funny. Take, for instance, the following tweet from Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the Beatles album - yes, I know it's not a book, but the tweeted version is one of the best things in Twitterature, so I'm going with it): "I used to be an abusive tyrant. Rockin' out, getting high, beating my woman. But now I'm better. Or at least no worse." While this might seem horrific if you aren't familiar with the song, it is actually a pretty accurate description of "Getting Better."

Despite these high points, Twitterature is a disappointing and often maddening read. Rather than trying to mimic the styles of the authors of the different books, Aciman and Rensin uniformly use modern language, which is disconcerting to say the least. Reading Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird tweet, "Tom accused of raping a woman, but I'm pretty sure they just got it on. Can't a brother get some tush?" just seems wrong. Using modern vernacular, rather than putting forth the effort to try to write in the style of the books and their characters, robs Twitterature of potential humor and just seems lazy. An additional shortcoming is the authors' apparent obsession with cursing and potty humor. (Given that Aciman and Rensin are undergrads in college, this shouldn't be surprising.) While some cursing and scatological humor can be effective and funny when used in moderation, the constant use of "WTF" and "Oh sh*t" gets old very quickly.

Consequently, if you are looking for book synopses that read like they have been written by Mike Myers during his Love Guru phase, then this book is for you. However, if you want well-written, witty, and entertaining takes on the classics, you had best look elsewhere. (May I suggest ShrinkLits, Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook, or The Five Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics?)