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Editor’s Note: In a most unlikely match, Twitter has hooked up with Literature to produce one of the year’s more imaginative and enjoyable parodies. Twitter’s  calling card is brevity (140 characters or less) while literature’s defining trait is prolixity. Two University of Chicago undergraduates decided to blend the two in their recently-published, “Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in 20 Tweets or Less”. Is no part of American life safe from the all-consuming reach of social networking?  What follows is my article on the new book—currently ranked 42nd on Amazon’s list of Best-Sellers in the parody category—that appeared in the January issue of Chicago magazine.

In Fall 2008, Alex Aciman and Emmett Rensin met as freshman roommates at the University of Chicago. It was kismet at first quip. Both were published writers: Aciman had written about film noir for The New York Times and Rensin had blogged about religion and youth culture for the Huffington Post.

Bring two bright students together, mix with winter cabin fever in Chicago, and intellectual sparks soon flew.  Twitter had gone viral several months before; the two roommates decided to write a book proposal. Aciman recalls, “As soon as the pun on “twitter” and “literature” appeared, we got into it.”

Their first book tweeted was Albert Camus’ The Stranger (“Atmosphere heavy, taking a walk. Taking revolver too, Arabs abroad.  Still hot and still drunk. Good combination.”). In three weeks, they completed tweets for 19 more classics and sent them to an agent. Penguin bought the book, gave it its title and the students fleshed out the remaining 60 or so works in June at Rensin’s home in Los Angeles.

The book appeared in England in November; an expanded American edition appeared in December (Updated note: a French edition has just been published). It ranges from the epic Gilgamesh (“It’s pretty great being king: part human, part God, ALL ladies’ man”) to The Da Vinci Code (“Driving to a bank. Good time to exposit the history of all these crazy Catholic secret societies to this French girl—maybe get her hot?”).

Both 19-year-old sophomores gravitate toward the unconventional.  A New York native, the short, red-haired Aciman, says he is a devotee of Napoleon Bonaparte. “I am a failed Napoleon, but I try my best to fail with a passion.”  Rensin, who is from Los Angeles, is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church with three goals: to master card magic, to create the perfect shaggy-dog joke, and to pen the Great American Novel.

In a moment of seriousness, though, each student admits to harboring future writing dreams. “We’re like velveteen writers right now,” says Aciman. “We want to be real writers.”

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