Okay, David Mitchell, Only You Can Get Away With This: The Tweet-Story-Novel-Promo

It was inevitable: someone was going to write an entire short story via Twitter. Probably it’s already happened, but I’ve managed to ignore it because, hard as I try to be all with-it and trendy,*I…I just can’t help myself. I find Twitter ANNOYING.

(*and by “try hard” I mean, kinda-sorta-give-a-nod-to-Twitter-now-and-then trying hard.)

But when my friend Lorna sent me a link to a story on the Huffington Post about David Mitchell’s tweeted short story, “The Right Sort,” I paid attention.

David Mitchell is my “it” author of the past year. Cloud Atlas led to the best discussion my book group’s had in 11 years. And The Thousand Autumns of Jakob de Zoet? Are you kidding? Best book I read all last year. (I’ve blogged about both; click on the titles if you want to read about them.)

According to the Huffington Post, Mitchell began his Twitter story in July as a promo for his forthcoming novel, The Bone Clocks. It took him six days and approximately 270 tweets.

And this from a guy who, apparently, usually uses Twitter about as much as I do! That must have been quite a stretch. My respect grows. (Wonder if it was Mitchell’s idea, or his publicist’s? Wouldn’t that have been an interesting conversation to listen to? “Hang on–you want me to write what?”)

(orig.image courtesy Some.cards)

(orig.image courtesy Some.cards)

Since “The Right Sort” is narrated by a teenage boy tripping on his mum’s Valium, the trippy little bursts that we call tweets are actually a perfect medium. I just hope other authors don’t think they need to try the method themselves.

Are you listening, other authors? David Mitchell: yes. You: no. He can tweet whatever he wants. He can even tweet his whole novel if he has the digital fortitude. But you? Don’t even think about it.

Except maybe you, Kate Atkinson.

What do you think of the Twitterization of fiction? How about Twitter itself? Are you a Twit? Do you like to tweet? Or are you as yet untwitterized?


From the Author of Cloud Atlas, Another Ridiculously Good Read

Let me apologize up front for not writing about President Kennedy today. I figure others will pick up the slack. I need to write about a book.

I’d love to sum it up in a pithy, “Two words for ya–” but unfortunately, this book has a MOUTHFUL of a title. Ready?

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell.

Read this.

Read this.

Normally my “can’t-put-it-down” books are mysteries–especially ones by Elizabeth George. But this literary novel has me in its clutches, and not for the usual reasons.

Oh, it’s got the goods all right. Sympathetic hero with a blind spot? Check. Ridiculously authentic, obviously-well-researched setting (Japan circa 1800)? Check. Crackling dialogue (seamlessly “translated” from Dutch and Japanese yet!)? Sensory detail of the most intimate and unexpected kind? Aching love story? Political intrigue? Breathless plot twists? Evil villains? Check, check, check, check, check, and…check.

But here’s what really gets me about this novel, grammar nerd that I am: its simple declarative sentences.

An example, chosen randomly from page 194:

Uzaemon glimpses the enormity of the risk he is taking.

Would they bother with a warrant? Or just dispatch an assassin?

Uzaemon looks away. To stop and think would be to abort the rescue.

Feet splash in puddles. The brown river surges. Pines drip.

I think I’m in love.

…THIS JUST IN! I wrote the above before arriving at page 451. That’s where I found this paragraph:

Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the market place and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike-topped walls, and triple-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas, and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule drivers, mules, and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunchbacked makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nagasaki River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed from kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges…

Do you hear it yet? Feel it? Read the passage aloud. 


And it goes on like this, this single paragraph, for nearly a page and a half, all gorgeous internal rhyme hidden amidst sense-snatching detail like some kind of literary sleight-of-hand. The final sentence of the paragraph ends this way:

…where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of the Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night’s rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.

I think I read that last sentence holding my breath, hearing the paragraph, like the gulls, wheel full circle back to where its flight began.

As far as I’ve noticed, this is the only paragraph in the book like this–and Mitchell throws it out there on page 451 like, “Hey, yeah, see what I could do if I wanted? I could write this whole book in rhyme if I felt like it. Dare me?”

I’m telling ya: this former English teacher and lifelong reader & writer gets chills.

But I need to finish this book, and it’s your turn now. Do you have a book which you love as much for its use of sentence structure or language as for the story? Should I read it? Tell, tell.

Life of Pi…Why?

Hey, I’m in danger of turning into a curmudgeon and I need your help.

It may already be too late. I keep wondering why they had to make Life of Pi into a movie.

Oh, I know. It came out ages ago. And no, I have not seen it. So why even bring it up?

Well, see, last month I finished reading Cloud Atlas. I can remember my reaction, because I wrote it into my journal, though I cannot reproduce it here verbatim: “effing BRILLIANT.”   Then I recalled that the reason I had read it was that my book group grew curious after the movie came out last fall, and that started me wondering: why make a movie out of this book?

(orig. photo courtesy foundwalls.com)

(orig. photo courtesy foundwalls.com)

(courtesy Pinterest.com)

(courtesy Pinterest.com)

The whole brilliance of Cloud Atlas is in its narration. The nested stories, jumping ahead in time, then falling back, revealing hidden connections, stimulating thought  And yes, I know that stories told visually can do this too, but they miss a key element: writing style. The way that Mitchell’s style changes with each of the six stories is what raises Cloud Atlas above the level of a great story, and turns it into something scintillating.

The potboiler tone of Luisa Rey’s tale, which we later learn is the manuscript of another character; the painfully gorgeous imagery of Sonmi 451 as she discovers real life; Zachry’s chopped and stunted syntax in the brave new tech-less world of the future…how can a movie capture these?

(orig. photo courtesy my.hsj.org)

(orig. photo courtesy my.hsj.org)

(courtesy samuel.ward.com)

(courtesy samuel.ward.com)

I remembered thinking much the same thoughts when Life of Pi came out the year before. That book captured me with its tricky narrative, the way the truth of the story itself is left hanging at the end. The way the whole thing begins as a memoir and only gradually reveals itself as a novel (or maybe I’m just slow). Yes, the visuals must be stunning. Didn’t it win an Oscar for that? (Note to self: start caring enough to google that.)  But Life is Pi is way more than visuals. If folks only see the movie, they’ll get something out of it, no doubt. But if they see the movie and forego the book, they’ve missed out big time.

I can certainly think of some books which were vastly improved by becoming screenplays: Schindler’s List and Chocolat are two that come to mind (the latter written by my college roommate’s husband, Bob Nelson Jacobs :)).

But I need some convincing here. Life of Pi–worth the celluloid (or pixels, or whatever they use these days)? Cloud Atlas? Can you think of other movies which add to the impact of their original books, or even surpass them? Or do you, bless your heart, actually agree with me? Are you a curmudgeon-in-training too?