If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d probably be Twittering.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the says-it-all opening phrase of “A Tale of Two Cities,” is a mere 52 characters – well below the 140-character tweet limit.
Twitter rewards speed and terseness (not to mention mangled grammar), and generally isn’t considered a forum for deep thought. News that a TV show based on Twitter is in the works probably won't do much to change that reputation.
But what’s to say tweeting can’t be used for higher brow purposes?
There have been attempts to write novels on Twitter, and in Japan, books composed by cellphone texters have gained some popularity. Last week, an Oregon man won a contest, started on Twitter by a Canadian music journalist, that called for summarizing operas at tweet length, The Washington Post reported.
Stephen Llewellyn, who ambitiously tackled Wagner’s ambitious – and interminable – “Ring Cycle,” wrote: “There was a young lady called Fricka Who . . . who . . . *snore* 'Wake up -- it's over.' It's good, I just wish it were quicka.”
Llewellyn won some prizes – including tickets to “Turandot" at the Washington National Opera – which he gave to Priscilla Barrow, a Washington music teacher.
We’re not offering any prizes, but thought it would be a fun exercise to summarize plots of great novels in 140 characters or less.
Here’s an attempt at John Steinbeck’s “The Grape of Wrath”: Dust in OK, Joads to CA. Grandparents die, we cry. Hoovervilles, strikerbreakers. Cop kills Rev, Tom kills cops, vows to fight 4 lil' guy.
It’s not easy. Even Dickens would have needed an editor: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” kicks off an epic 119-word, 612-character opening sentence.
Try not to be quite as wordy as you offer summaries of the novels of your choice in the comments section below.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.