A Dangerous Method? The Influence of Twitter on a Reader

Authors are some of the best Tweeters. Their ability to create something poignant and brief makes the 140-character limit a non-issue. They are engaged in politics and activism (politics with which I often agree). Their followers are people like me- readers, so the conversations they have are inherently interesting.

This, of course, is a massive generalization. It’s only true of a fictional author I’ve made up in my head out of pieces of various Tweeters that I’ve combined, Frankenstein-like, into one magnificent social media user. But there are a few examples of times when authors on my Twitter feed really have influenced my reading with their wit, conversation, and thoughts on Mad Men.

I follow Salman Rushdie (@salmanrushdie). I’ve never read his work because I hear it’s difficult and I’m lazy. But then I see that he’s funny! Rushdie hosts occasional #literarysmackdowns, wherein he pits two authors against each other and lets his followers duke it out to determine who is the better (or at least better-loved) writer. He also spent a small part of yesterday making that’s-what-she-said style slightly dirty jokes that led to me putting Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses on my Christmas list because that’s the sort of person I am.

I’ve also done this with Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson), who is so hilarious and goofy that I picked up The Name of the Star from the library, and Mark Twain (@marktwain), whose (obviously fake) Twitter account sends out witticisms so pithy and fantastic they encouraged me to re-read Huckleberry Finn. Other authors whose Twitter feeds have influenced me to buy (or tell other people to buy for me, yay holidays) their books include: Susan Orlean, Margaret Atwood, Erin Morgenstern, and J. Courtney Sullivan.

This could probably go the other way, as well. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s (also obviously fake) Twitter account is a bit difficult to comprehend in a medium that involves scrolling through short thoughts at top speed. If I can’t get through 140 characters of him, I’m probably not going to pick up his essays any time soon. And then there are the few self-published authors who spam my Twitter feed with links to their e-books- but then, they’re Doing It Wrong.

I’m not adept at predicting where social media is going, but for a reader like me- one who isn’t familiar with a lot of contemporary literature and who enjoys getting recommendations from like-minded readers- Twitter has served to increase the mountain that is my To Be Read pile. At a time when the methods by which an author sells a book are in serious flux, Twitter may become (or perhaps it already is) a serious sales tool. Following an author on Twitter keeps you abreast of when their next book comes out, where they are on their book tours, what they’re working on now, and who they are rooting for in this season of American Idol. Twitter can make previously unreachable authors accessible, and I can almost see literary students in the future reading through Margaret Atwood’s archived feed, searching for insight into her work. It has the potential to change how we read and how we approach literary criticism.

Tell me- have you ever picked up a book by someone you’ve never read because of Twitter? Do you follow authors on your feed? Are you a Neo-Luddite who finds Twitter offensive and icky?

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