Don't believe what you read, says author and editor Jeff Howe. "The Internet is not destroying literature." If anything, he argues, "the new medium could breathe new life into a few old ones."
To prove his point, earlier this month Howe kicked off "One Book, One Twitter," which Howe hopes will become "the largest collective reading exercise in history." As Howe explains in book industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly, "This summer, thousands of people from all over the world are reading Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods.' They will then discuss the book using Twitter, a new-fangled technology that's doing for the epigram what Anne Frank did for diaries."
Howe recognizes that a Twitter-based book club is not exactly your grandmother's book club. "People have noted, with some disdain," he writes, "that Twitter isn't conducive to book clubs. This ignores that One Book, One Twitter isn't meant to act anything like a book club, in which people who know each other offer lengthy, personal exegetics about a book, becoming closer to people they already know."
Instead, he says, "thousands of people who've never met will gather to dish out insights, questions, and commentary in the machine gun bursts that are Twitter's native form." He envisions, "a fire hose of commentary, much of it inane, some of it funny, a bit of it brilliant."
One Book, One Twitter launched on May 4 (now on Twitter at @1B1T2010 with 7,600+ followers, as of this morning). There is a schedule available, which shows which chapters are now being read and discussed. (As of today it's Chapters 4, 5, and 6.) The #globalrollcall indicates that participating readers hail from locales as diverse as Italy, Brazil, Alaska, the San Francisco Bay area, and Worthington, Ohio.
Gaiman himself admits to some ambiguity about the choice of "American Gods," a fantasy novel in which the gods of ancient mythology clash with today's gods – "gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon."
Gaiman told The Guardian that he's "half-pleased and half-not," because "American Gods" is "a divisive book" and "some people love it, some sort of like it, and some people hate it." Gaiman figures he'll end up spending some time on Twitter himself, "sending helpful or apologetic tweets to people who are stuck, offended, or very, very confused."
(Gaiman may be half right. This morning's comments range from, "Chapter 9...it's just too good to stop at 6. :)" to "well, no book is for everyone :)" ).
But whether readers decide they like the book or not, at least they are buying it. One of Howe's hopes is that the project will spur book sales. (That despite the lack of initial interest from the bookselling world: "I couldn't get most publishers to return my calls," he notes.)
However, Howe points out, "HarperCollins could sell thousands of copies of 'American Gods,' to say nothing of the needed revenue at small and large booksellers alike."
I can vouch for one copy, anyway – I'll be buying mine come lunchtime.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.