Silicon Beach: Coral Gables Literature Nerd Gets Geeky on Twitter

Categories: Silicon Beach
Patrick Alexander loves Proust, and is coming to love Twitter, too.
Patrick Alexander loves the work of French novelist Marcel Proust so much, he's bringing him back to life today @Proustlive.

But the romance between author and reader had a rocky start. Alexander, a British guy who settled in France with his family during the '70s, had no telephone or television to distract him in his countryside home. "My wife and I read so much French literature," he told Riptide over the phone. "We tried to get into Proust, but we just couldn't. It was a cloud hanging over my head."

Years later, Alexander brought a copy of Proust along a trip to Australia. Thirty hours of flying did the trick. "I discovered that he's hysterically funny," Alexander explained.  "He's the Dave Barry of the Belle Epoque -- funny and very rude."

Alexander, a Coral Gables resident for 25 years, may not have thought about writing about Proust during that long trip to Australia, but that's exactly what he has accomplished since, publishing Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time this year in September. The book is a comprehensive guide to Proust's voluminous novel.

Alexander retired from his tenure as director of professional advancement at the University of Miami two years ago and is now dedicated to writing. And much to his surprise, he's wordsmithing pithy tweets.

When publisher Random House encouraged him to use social media to promote the book, Twitter seemed obvious. At first, he wrote a Twitter course on the French novelist @Proust101. "The Twitter course was 101 different tweets about In Search of Lost Time and about him too," Alexander said. "In the process of doing it, I became fascinated by the idea of reducing complex thought to 140 characters. Proust is one of the most long-winded authors in literature. He wrote sentences that were several hundred words, taking over a few pages."

The first version of @Proustlive was a companion Twitter account to @Proust101. Alexander pre-wrote 400 tweets that condensed the novel in his own words. He pretended to be Proust, no small feat consider the verbose nature of the original author.

But Proust was really into details and navel-gazing, which is, for better or worse, at the core of Twitter. "Proust was obsessed with details. He would've loved Twitter," Alexander commented.  "Think about how celebrities tweet. Twitter is perfect. It goes into the mundane."

@Proustlive didn't go as well as Alexander had planned. Random House used a bot to automate his tweets. They came out too fast, too soon and in the wrong order. This time around, Alexander will be the live human behind the account, sending out three or four tweets a day that will correspond to the novel's chronological order.

The resurrection of @Proustlive comes just one day after Alexander presented at the Miami Book Fair International, but he snuck in a few tweets over the weekend:

" ... it is unlikely he would have enjoyed the one-hundred-forty character limitations imposed by Twitter."

"However Twitter would have allowed his hero to obsessively pursue Albertine and ask her to report what she was doing & who she was meeting."
The @Proustlive account will be a hoot for those familiar with the seven-volume novel, but new readers may enjoy it too. So far, Alexander's biggest Twitter audience has been Proust scholars and enthusiasts, but yours truly has a feeling it may be fun to follow @Proustlive and interact with the mind of Proust.

Alexander is looking forward to the exercise, since he'll be tweeting as if he were Proust himself. He may even get inspired to do more.

"At first, Twitter was completely over my head," he humbly admitted. "But now I may very well write new tweets along the way."

Let's hope he does, and that they're very juicy 140-character ones.

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