Twitterature from the University of Chicago

June 29, 2009
By

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No, this isn’t a post about Tweety’s reading habits, but close. This morning’s Tribune as well as the Chicago web publication Gapers Block both picked up on an item previously posted to the New Yorker‘s Book Bench Blog about the University of Chicago and a new book being written by two of its students. The book, Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books, Now Presented in Twenty Tweets or Less, is the brainchild of college roommates Alex Aciman and Emmett Rensin, both 19. According to the Tribune the book is the authors’ attempt to rewrite (mangle?) “classics by Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dante and other greats in 20 or fewer 140-character tweets.” The authors have signed a publishing contract with Penguin, known for its excellent editions of the classics.
The reaction so far from the book world seems to be of two minds with the Gapers Block undecided whether to label the news “sad or ironic” and the Tribune anticipating its reception by book lovers as “a mixture of horror and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that jealousy.” But, the Tribune article continues, literature professor W.J.T. Mitchell seemed to give “the project his backing recently, telling the Tribune, ‘this is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect University of Chicago students to come up with.’” And the New Yorker‘s Andrea Walker also seems to agree when she writes:

When I checked out the biographies of the guys who are doing it, I couldn’t help thinking it might be really good.… The U. of C. is known for serious thinking combined with a sarcastic, self-deprecating sense of humor that always amused me when displayed on undergraduate T-shirts. These described the school as “The level of hell Dante forgot,” “The place where fun comes to die,” and “The University of Chicago: if it was easy it would be…your mom.”

(For more of that unmistakable U. of C. wit see this blog dedicated to U. of C. slogans.)
As for the students themselves, they give a brief explanation of their motivation for writing the book on their website, (reprinted from another article on the subject appearing in the Telegraph last week):

“We had an epiphany.”
“What, we asked, are the grandest ventures of our or any generation? And what, to give this a bit more focus, best expresses the souls of 21st century Americans?”
They concluded that the two most important platforms of expression for their generation were literature and Twitter, and so embarked on a project to entwine the two.

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