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Lit Lite: University of Chicago students pen Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in 20 Tweets or Less

Two college students tweet their way to a book deal


Emmett Rensin (left) and Alex Aciman

 

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’ [twitterature] appeared, we got into it.”

Their first book tweeted was Albert Camus’s 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, titled it Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in 20 Tweets or Less, and the students fleshed out the remaining 60 or so works in June in Los Angeles. The book appeared in England in November; an expanded American edition comes out December 29th. 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.”

 

Photograph: Ryan Robinson; Stylist: Courtney Rust; Photo Assistant: Brian Guido

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