Twitter entries satirize works of literature

CHICAGO/LONDON Fri Oct 23, 2009 12:44pm EDT

1 of 2. William Shakespeare in an undated image.

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CHICAGO/LONDON Oct 23 (Reuters) - Deciphering William Shakespeare plays in school essays apparently was not enough for two university students who have written a book of Twitter entries that summarize and satirize works of literature.

"Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter," which Penguin releases next month in the United Kingdom, is an irreverent, profane and sometimes brilliant collection of 20 comments on the ideas and themes in 60-some classics.

The "tweets" of Emmett Rensin and Alexander Aciman combine the knowledge of an English major with the snarky shorthand of a teenager's text message.

"It's funny if you've read the books," said Rensin, who has read them at his tender age of 19. The mop-haired Rensin of Los Angeles is a sophomore at the University of Chicago majoring in English and philosophy, and his collaborator and classmate Aciman is a comparative literature major from New York City.

These are not their parents' Cliff Notes. The goal is laughs and gasps, not a study aid for students trying to comprehend Milton's "Paradise Lost," Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," or William Shakespeare's plays.

Take Dante's "Inferno" -- which the authors did in Twitter entries that are restricted to 140 characters or less: "I'm having a midlife crisis. Lost in the woods. Shoulda brought my iPhone."

Of Sophocles' "Oedipus the King" they said: "PARTY IN THEBES!!! Nobody cares I killed that old dude, plus this woman is all over me."

Rensin discussed boiling down Homer's "The Odyssey."

"We have Odysseus, he's on an island, and he's stranded, and he's just fought in this egregious war. He has nothing to his name except his wits and his iPhone and at that point he goes on his Twitter account. What at that moment would Odysseus say?" Rensin said in an interview with Reuters Television.

"There were some lines in the book where we're sitting on a couch and we're writing it, and we'd both laugh and say 'there's no way they're going to let us write that,'" Aciman said.

Renaming Shakespeare's Macbeth for Big Mac, the fast-food icon, seemed only natural.

"If Macbeth were to register a user name, he's arrogant enough to pick something like that, I think," Aciman said. "I figure he'd be much more of a sandwich than just a hamburger."

But the manuscript has gotten very mixed reviews.

"Some people think it's funny and some people think it's disrespectful," Aciman added.

The point was to make people laugh, not offend the defenders of great literature, the authors said.

"I'm not going to say it's high art," said Aciman, whose favorite author is Marcel Proust. "There is some value to it, I feel, aside from the fact we're making available the idea behind great works of art."

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