March 22, 2013

Tweaking titles on Twitter


My inbox is 97 percent full. My goal these days is to keep it from reaching 98 percent. Now and then I delete a slew of messages, sometimes entire folders, in one go.

The number 97 has remained steady since January. What fluctuates more unpredictably is the number of unread mail. On March 17, that number was 2466.

The number seemed familiar. Before making the connection between Wong Kar-wai‘s luminous film 2046 and Roberto Bolaño‘s full-size mother lode of a novel 2666, I tried rearranging the numbers in all its various possibilities, with only one rule: the first and last numbers must remain the same.

2466. 2646.

Moments later I composed a Tweet:

All that was missing was a hashtag.

Part of what’s playful about Twitter is how you can restructure, using only so many characters, the title of a beloved work. It is a dip into both nostalgia and possibility. One Tweet becomes a dozen, two dozen, a sudden community of improvised melody during which your brain is switched to a slightly different gear, if only for the length of a hashtag stream.

On Thursday morning Dwight Garner posted:

This made sense to me.

So I put out a call to some writers to turn in their own restructured titles. I gave them no rules. Here are the first three:

By Amitava Kumar, the author of, most recently, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb:

When my friend Cheryl Strayed told me that she was going to publish a memoir called Wild, which as you know has had a very successful run over this past year, I immediately told her that I was going to write a memoir called Mild. I wouldn’t tell a story about going on a punishing hike—my book would be about stepping on an academic track. In her book, Cheryl deals with death and the breakup of a marriage; I’d write about academic dyspepsia and the trials of putting together a Ph.D. committee. At the end of Wild, its narrator has found insight and strength. The narrator of Mild would be faced at the end by that small death called Tenure.

One by Ranbir Sidhu, the author of the story collection Good Indian Girls, forthcoming in October:

The Possibility of a Purl

Michel Houellebecq‘s unrelenting examination of the erotic possibilities of knitting circles in the distant future, when the only pleasure that humanity has left is the deadening and never consummated sexual charge of watching us knit each other’s clothes.

And one by Randa Jarrar, the author of the novel A Map of Home:

Little Men

It would be a sequel to Little Women, and set in post–Iraq War America. Ideally, it would be written by Sam Lipsyte, about four brothers and their domineering father, who happens to be a little person. The Jo character would be Joe, a writer dude, and he would beat the crap out of a has-been boxing champion in the denouement, signaling the end of American masculinity . . . or something.

More of these will be posted. I ask you readers to restructure titles of your own as well, and send them to me via e-mail or a Tweet (@runtyreader), along with a brief plot synopsis; I will post them in the next round. My inbox shall become 98 percent full in the name of restructured storytelling.

My only rule: leave off the hashtags. Let the imagined work stand purely on its own.



Wah-Ming Chang is the managing editor of Melville House.