Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

There are mother-daughter book clubs, book clubs for empty nesters, book clubs for single women, and for fans of Oprah Winfrey.

And now, NPR's Laura Sydell reports on an effort to get millions of people to discuss a novel on Twitter, 140 characters at a time.

LAURA SYDELL: It's called One Book, One Twitter, and the idea comes from Jeff Howe. Howe, a contributing editor at Wired magazine, wasn't actually looking to online book clubs as the model. He was inspired by One Book, One Chicago. Back in 2001, the entire city read "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Mr. JEFF HOWE (Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine): You had elementary school kids reading it, and their parents reading it, and their grandparents reading it, and black people reading it, Hispanic people reading it, white people reading, rich and poor. And it gave all these people with very little in common at least one thing in common.

SYDELL: Since then, other cities have done the same thing. Now Howe is bringing it to Twitter.

Mr. HOWE: We can't make the Sunni love Shia. We can't turn red states and blue states into the United States. But what we can do is all read the same book together and get to know one another a little bit.

SYDELL: Howe wrote his idea in an article in Wired magazine, and he began tweeting about it.

Andrea Grover, an independent curator and writer who lives in Houston, is going to be a reader. To her, it feels like other collaborations she's done with artists on Flickr.

Ms. ANDREA GROVER (Independent Curator/Writer): What came out of that is I now have friends in Pakistan and Iran and have meaningful relationships that developed off-line. Twitter might just be the gateway to something deeper.

SYDELL: Of course, this raises the question of how deep can the comments be when they have to fit into the 140-character limit on Twitter. Howe thinks you can say a lot.

Mr. HOWE: I'm a big defender of Twitter as having given rise to a renaissance of the epigrammatic form. And so I think it's possible to be very insightful in 140 characters.

SYDELL: We decided to ask an expert on condensing great novels into few words. Susan Van Kirk wrote the CliffsNotes for "The Scarlet Letter." She gave us her Twitter version.

Ms. SUSAN VAN KIRK (Author, CliffsNotes for "The Scarlet Letter"): Sin is bad. Confession good. Courageous Hester wears A and lives. Cowardly Dimmesdale won't and dies. Puritans satisfied. H and D together in death.

SYDELL: It's 140 characters but Van Kirk admits it's not very deep. She actually is a little skeptical about a discussion on Twitter in 140 character notes.

Ms. VAN KIRK: It's very difficult to condense and to put your thoughts down, even about the book. It's really tough to do that in, say, 70 pages, let alone 140 characters.

SYDELL: Thousands of One Book, One Twitter participants just picked from a list of 10 finalists for the big read, and it wasn't shallow stuff. Among them was Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," Arundhati Roy's "God of Small Things," "American Gods" by sci-fi superstar Neil Gaiman.

"American Gods" won. Bill Drew from upstate New York voted for it. He admits he's not sure he'll be able to say much in 140 characters. But he might entice people to go further.

Mr. BILL DREW: You can start out with something that's going to grab them and have a link that points to more.

SYDELL: Organizer Jeff Howe says he plans to ask everyone to read a chapter a week. He hopes it feels a little like being at a big party.

Mr. HOWE: This is a big room with a lot of people who are all reading the same chapter. And they're very excited. And they're speaking in short incisive bursts.

SYDELL: Well, hopefully they'll be.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: