Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Twitter as bookclub

Is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods a good choice for the One Book, One Twitter event/bookclub/opinionfest? Gaiman himself isn’t so sure, though he will participate in good spirit, and is even willing to tweet answers to readers’ questions when it’s all done.

To my own surprise, I find that I very much like the idea of a group of people tweeting their responses to a common book — but I don't like it at this scale. It will involve too many people with no common knowledge or experience, and 140 characters aren't enough to provide helpful context. Twitter works in large part because people who follow one another tend to know one another, which means that we have contextual knowledge that helps us to understand our friends’ tweets. A brief message that might seem innocuous or even pointless to someone who doesn't know the tweeter can be hysterically funny to someone who does. Such tacit knowledge is essential to the success of the Twittersphere, a fact that can be obscured when people focus too much on the .01% of Twitter users who have thousands of followers.

But at a smaller scale the idea of a Twitter bookclub is rather appealing. The problem is that I (like most people who use Twitter regularly) have multiple sets of friends who aren't all interested in the same things. With my church friends I might want to read a book that would leave some of my other followers bored, indifferent, or hostile. This problem can be addressed: for instance, I could create a new Twitter account, encourage some friends to follow that account, and use it to initiate a conversation about a book. Then we could send all our comments on the book as replies to that account, which would keep us from cluttering up other people’s Twitter pages. And there may be simpler ways I haven't thought of. It’s a bit of a kludge, but a kludge worth the trouble, I think. May a thousand bookclubs tweet.

1 comments:

  • Michael Straight said...

    What a weird book for such a project. It's the sort of book I'd use as a reductio ad absurdum argument against tweeting one's opinion of a book.

    Among many things, it's a tour of a weird alternate America where there is almost no trace of Christianity (without any of the radical wide-sweeping differences that would seem to imply), but rather it is haunted by the ghosts of old pagan gods whose existence is threatened by technology and consumerism. In Gaiman's war between paganism and secularism, Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) are either non-existent or irrelevant.

    I'm used to fantasy novels ignoring or satirizing or making an allegory of Christianity. It seems fine in a book set in Middle Earth or Discworld or Ancient Egypt or (maybe) even Pullman's alternate Earth (J.K. Rowling's world is really pushing it with Hogwarts taking breaks for Easter and Christmas).

    But a large chunk of what American Gods seems to be aiming for is to evoke and explore the quintessence of America, so it seemed really weird to go through all these small towns and big cities with no sign of a church or a Christian anywhere.

    Gaiman certainly borrows plenty of blatantly Christian imagery, and some reviewers seem to see the pagan gods here as somehow representing the Abrahamic and other religious traditions as well. Maybe it's sort of his idea to depict a secret America living in the shadows where the light of public religion doesn't reach. But it didn't work for me. It was like reading a Great American Novel set in a country with no motor vehicles. Or no televisions.

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