Classic Twitterature

University of Chicago students reinterpret great works of literature into Twitter-speak

By Matt Bartosik
|  Thursday, Dec 10, 2009  |  Updated 1:27 PM EDT
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Twit 101: Chi Students Pen Tweet Classics

A new book reinterprets great pieces of literature in 20 tweets or fewer.

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In today's fast-paced society, it can be difficult to find the time to enjoy such long, wordy classics like Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby. Between Twitter, Facebook, TiVo, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and iPhone/Droid apps, there's simply no room in our schedules to read a book.

Unless of course it's a junior-high reading level novel about teenage vampires committing suicide. Then we're all over that.

But the classics are too poetic and long-winded. "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" What does that even mean? Why didn't Juliet just look up Romeo's Loopt profile?

Fortunately, two University of Chicago students have put together a new book to help the attention-deficient among us.

Emmett Rensin and Alexander Acimen, 19-year-old sophomores, co-authored Twitterature: the World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less, published by Penguin Classics. It's already been released in England and Australia, and is scheduled to be on shelves on December 29 here in the U.S.

The book reinterprets great pieces of literature—like Don Quixote and The Hobbit—in 20 tweets or fewer. And, according to Twitter rules, each tweet can only contain a maximum of 140 characters.

For example, Hamlet tweets, "WTF IS POLONIUS DOING BEHIND THE CURTAIN???"

In The Inferno, Dante texts, "Met a guy who ate all his children and actually feels bad for HIMSELF. Creeped me out. Couldn't wait to say, 'Peace, brotha, gotta split.'"

And from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, our little hero tweets, "OMG Hogwarts OMG I have two friends OMG magic OMG the Slytherins are Nazis OMG there is an EVIL WIZARD out to get me."

The results are amusing, even to folks not on Twitter. In fact, both of the authors themselves aren't very active on the microblogging site.

"I've looked at Twitter, and there are certainly some very funny people," Rensin told the Sun-Times. "I just don't have time to tweet what I had for breakfast."

The authors are adamant that their mini-interpretations are not meant to be replacements for the originals. Rather, they are designed to be a satirical and humorous homage.

In fact, some of the Twitterature jokes and allusions can only be understood by those who have actually read the books the tales are based on.

"When we were writing it, there were points where you have to decide between making a joke that is just sort of ridiculous and juvenile and sort of comic for anybody, and a joke that's referential to the text," said Rensin. "And I think there's a good balance of that. Through editing, eventually, we got a good mix."

The 224-page book includes over 80 well-known books, including War and Peace, The Da Vinci Code, and yes, even a certain recently famous vampire drama.

The book could leave you soul-searching though.

As Hamlet said, "2bornt2b? Can one tweet beyond the mortal coil?"

Matt Bartosik is a Chicago native and a social media sovereign.

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