“Twitterature”

This week, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan is releasing her new novel.

Big deal, you’re probably thinking, people write books everyday.

Well, have we got some news for you. Are you sitting down?! I hope you’re not drinking anything… We don’t want to be held responsible if you spit out your coffee and ruin your MacBook.

Ok, here goes: THIS BOOK IS BEING RELEASED ON TWITTER!

We know, we know. Books on Twitter. But, before you move your family into the bomb shelter and say your goodbyes to your friends and coworkers, let’s sit down and really think about what this might mean.

We hear two arguments everyday. The first is that the Internet, and specifically social media sites, have ruined literature for everyone. The belief is that our attention spans have been squashed, and we are incapable of digesting ideas that exceed 140 characters. Reading a book takes time, and requires focus, and commitment. When we can scroll to the ending, click to the good stuff, and get the gist using zero punctuation whatsoever, why even bother to crack a binding?

However, the counter argument is a convincing one. We spend a lot of time on social networking sites, skimming emails, tweeting at mega-stars, checking statuses, and reading blogs. Heck, some of us have even made careers out of this kind of digital poppycock!  Although there might be a decrease in book reading – true cover to cover consumption – the intake of web articles, emails, Twitter updates, status updates, AIMs, and G-chat’s have forced the average person to actually read more.

Breaking a novel into 140 character portions might not be the conventional way of telling a story, but it is possible, and Egan gets points for inventiveness.

However, Egan is not the first person to use Twitter to paint a bigger picture. One of my favourite conceptual twitter accounts, steered by Karl Welzein, chronicles the life of a newly single dad who’s trying to balance living with roommates, drinking beer, and dealing with his ex-wife and children. He posts in large blocks, has reoccurring characters, and has 80, 000 people hanging onto his every word. If you start at the beginning, and read through, you will actually get to know him like you would any other literary antihero.

Of course, no one should be replacing Tolstoy with a Twitter handle just yet. But, having a Twitter account updated with smart, original content will at least bring a bit of culture to the world of RT’s, “tweefs”, and #hashtags.

 

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