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October 24, 2009

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Twitterature: classics retold through shorthand

DECIPHERING William Shakespeare plays in university essays apparently was not enough for two students who have written a book of Twitter-type entries that summarize and satirize works of literature.

"Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter," 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 English majors with the snarky shorthand of a teenager's text message.

"It's funny if you've read the books," said Rensin, 19, a sophomore at the University of Chicago majoring in English and philosophy.

His collaborator, Aciman, is a comparative literature major from New York City.

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.

Aciman: "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'."

Renaming Shakespeare's Macbeth as 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 said.


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