First came Moby-Dick as a Twitter feed. Then came a newspaper piece that reimagined the novel as a series of tweets from its narrator, Ishmael: “We’re all having a ‘whale of a time’ here! (That’s right, I WENT THERE. Sue me!)”
Last week, Thomas Watson of New Orleans went all 2.0 on the concept with TweetMeIshmael, a Twitter feed in Ishmael’s 19th-century voice. Not only does this Ishmael note his key observations as tweets, but he responds in character to Twitter users who @reply to him (by typing “@TweetMeIshmael” at the beginning of a post). Here’s a convo about Chapter 16:
TweetMeIshmael Yojo, Q’s little black god, has tasked me with finding a whaleship. Three suitable ships in harbor: Devil-Dam, Tit-Bit, and Pequod.
jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?
TweetMeIshmael Laughing aloud! RT @jmsullivan “Go with Tit-Bit! Tit-Bit! Come on, how can that not be a fun ship?”
TweetMeIshmael Learned a/b Pequod: owners (Peleg, Bildad); captain (pegleg Ahab)
jmsullivan @TweetMeIshmael Pretty sure those are names of Assyrian demons. Would be _very_ wary of this ship. Sounds ominous. What was wrong w Tit Bit?
TweetMeIshmael @jmsullivan Then Yojo shall have some company. re Tit-Bit: Its seaworthiness concerned me. What chance has a tit-bit against a spermaceti?
Watson, who is reading the book on his Blackberry, first thought of the feed as a way to take notes on author Herman Melville’s turns of phrase. Surprisingly, this will be his first time through the book—if he makes it through. Watson read part of the long, dense narrative during one summer vacation and always intended to finish, but it wasn’t until he picked up Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction masterpiece In the Heart of the Sea recently that he felt ready. Philbrick’s gloss on the lives of Nantucket whalers “filled in a lot of the gaps I’d had,” Watson writes. “If I were a teacher, I’d make In the Heart of the Sea required reading before Moby-Dick.”
At press time, 30 Twitter users were following TweetMeIshmael. Watson plans to post at least one tweet for each of the book’s 135 chapters, though he may post more as time and inspiration allow. “If this little project helps me finish Moby-Dick, I’ll consider it a success,” he writes. “If a few dozen people enjoy Ishmael’s missives in their Twitter feed, so much the better!”
Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick. She tweets about artistic responses to Moby-Dick at twitter.com/powermobydick.