REVIEW with bonus contents list
Here we go again! Another compendium raiding trad lit for cheap laughs & hefty profits. Well, EMOE (eat my own eyeballs). Need a few lines.
Actually, I needed a birthday present for my mother-in-law, so I picked up a copy of Twitterature “The World’s Greatest Books Retold through Twitter” (Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin, Penguin Books, 2009).
The book is crap but I bought it anyway because although it knows sweet FA about literature, it is an excellent introduction for old people to tweeting. “Old” in my definition, is not just anyone over 25 but anyone who has not, for whatever reason, gazed into cyberspace, yearning to be transported to its magical centre and there attain the godly powers of net-navigating nerds.
A stupid “old” person can learn a lot from Twitterature because it has a glossary and an explanation of Twitter format. LOL, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how moronically one-dimensional and trite this internet development is. Very LCD (an “old” way of saying lowest common denominator, the historic phenomenon of tweeters who lived before tweeting was invented and therefore had to keep their ignorant, inarticulate opinions to themselves). Once you’ve got a handle on the jargon, u r ready to take on the text.
The work begins with a breathy introduction that functions as an apologia for the work’s existence. By wading through overwritten, florid sentences awash with the effluent of metaphors drawn from nature, you learn that the authors want to bring literature to the level of the modern moron, who has neither the time nor the language skills required to read: Paradise Lost (Milton), The Metamorphosis (Kafka), Oedipus the King (Sophocles), Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Byron), The Red and the Black (Stendhal), Macbeth (Shakespeare), The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), The Illiad (Homer), Hamlet (him again), The Overcoat (Gogol), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), The Inferno (Dante), A Hero of our Time (Lermontov), Beowulf, Candide (Voltaire), Doctor Faustus (Marlowe), Emma (Austen), Great Expectations (Dickens), Heart of Darkness (Conrad), King Lear (yes), Lysistrata (Aristophanes), In Cold Blood (Capote), Medea (Euripides), Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell), On the Road (Kerouac), Notes from Underground (Dostoyevsky), Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), Romeo and Juliet (ditto), Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle), Eugene Onegin (Pushkin), The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey (Homer), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde), The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goethe), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Sterne), Venus in Furs (Sacher-Masoch), Mrs Dalloway (Woolf), Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), Pride and Prejudice (her, again), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain), Frankenstein (Shelley), Swann’s Way (Proust), The Aeneid (Virgil), The Devil in the Flesh (Radiguet), Dracula (Stoker), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Lawrence), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll), The Tempest (correct), Madame Bovary (Flaubert), Death in Venice (Mann), The Three Musketeers (Dumas), Moby-Dick (Melville), Don Quixote (Cervantes), The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer).
Just before you get excited, you need to know that it is only the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Although various periods and genres of Western literary history are covered, it is open to debate whether these are “the world’s greatest books,” especially when you consider the inclusion of two Dostoyevskys and not one James Joyce. More likely, they were chosen on the basis of what our authors, undergraduates at the University of Chicago, have read so far. Nothing to be ashamed of here.
Nor is it surprising that every book is turned into a first-person narrative since that is the nature of tweeting. The disappointment lies in the assumption that the book is the content of the storyline, so the treatment leaves you with something bearing mostly only a cursory resemblance to its source. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to think along these lines, if I hadn’t recently come across 80 Classic Books for People in a Hurry, illustrated by Henrik Lange and written by Thomas Wengelewski (Nicotext, 2009), which goes straight for the jugular with a delightfully subjective attempt to interpret a book as a whole and what it might be about. The more familiar you are with the books, the more amusing it is, even when dealing with some serious stuff.
Either way, both works in question are not intended to introduce people to literature. Their purpose is to entertain and to that end, I quote the following from Twitterature(or Twitrature, as I think of it):
“I realise now that women should submit, and make me a sandwich while you’re down there.”
“My husband won’t give me a divorce. I would go Lorena Bobbitt on him if he had any use of his dick.”
“He thinks I don’t love my husband because of him. The secret is, I don’t love my husband because I dig chicks.”
“I’ve got it! Rather than accept financial aid from my friend, I’ll murder an elderly money-lender in cold blood. Why? I’m not telling.”
“For TWITTERATURE of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, see On the Road by Jack Kerouac.”
“After a time I’ve become very rich and successful, and very good-looking. This ought to mess with their heads back home.”
“Uh oh. This cave is a giant’s lair. He has a taste for cheese and my companions. He also has only one eye. Trying to keep from laughing.”
”We stripped off. I did lines off her tits. Couldn’t get it up and know not why. Smoked an entire pouch of tobacco instead.”
“Incredible. Everything you might ever need to survive on an island was in that ship. Guns, food, bread, books, you name it.”
“Before I cut off Grendel’s head my men sodomized him and I shat in his face. We used to do that in school, remember? (Is that messed up?)”
Not sure I should give this to my mother-in-law. She’s never read Beowulf. Might give her the wrong idea. I wonder how many men call their dicks Moby? Peace, bitches.
[…] some ways the book is a complete mockery of literature. As Blazenka Brysha comments on her […]
The book actually knows F A-lot about literature, as the authors have read and understood and loved each book they rendered in the Twitter haiku. The introduction is overwritten on purpose — archness has not gone out of style, has it? Certainly your florid description of their florid prose is meant as humorous, and is taken that way — and the Joyce’s omission has everything to do with UK parody laws. Try the US edition in Dec for another 21 books, including Joyce. Bottom line: it’s humor. The authors are having a laugh, not at the expense of literature, but in celebration of it. They hope readers will as well.
Thanks for your comment, Bob.