After finishing Teju Cole’s debut novel Open City (my choice for best book of the year), I couldn’t get his voice—or, to be more accurate, his narrator’s voice—out of my head. The truth is I didn’t want to. Reading the book, I was reminded of walks and thoughts I’d had strolling the streets of New York City, only with a bit more clarity and a lot more poetry.
But I was in luck: Teju Cole has a Twitter feed, and the musings and tangents I so enjoyed in his book lend themselves perfectly to the 140 characters of a tweet.
I’m not the only one who has caught the Teju Cole bug. Considering how much praise his Twitter feed has gotten—Macy Halford wrote about his Small Fates project (compressed, 140-character reports of unusual happenings in Lagos, Nigeria, where Cole grew up) on the The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog; Alexis Madrigal wrote about Cole’s critique of the “First World problems” hashtag for TheAtlantic.com—it’s surprising that more people haven’t discovered the pleasures of entering Teju Cole’s mind one tweet at a time. (He currently has about 6,000 followers on Twitter.)
Cole doesn’t use classic Twitter speak: You’re unlikely to find a hashtag, a retweet, or even a link besides the very occasional bit of self-promotion. What he does instead is share pocket observations. His thoughts about Lagos (he is writing a nonfiction book about the city) and his poignant street photography are the most satisfying things in my Twitter stream. While I appreciate the many news-related Twitter feeds I follow, Cole provides a haven from the clutter of all-too-similar tweets about the latest breaking story or the best new Tumblr.
Cole says his novel is “nothing like the tweets,” but I have found both to be similarly gratifying. Perusing through his old tweets for this post I was tempted to retweet half of them.
Since car dealer Olaoluwa could not be found, Adeniji Adele police held his wife Kemi instead, till Death did them part.
A photographer is a pickpocket of the visible.
In Ojota last night, Teju Cole, 36, underwent an extreme form of literary criticism: he was relieved of his laptop at gunpoint.
As these tweets suggest, Cole can run the gamut of literary genres on Twitter: reportage, epigram, autobiography. But what I find most refreshing is how down to earth his tweets are, how much they revel in their simplicity. He is somehow able to paint a complete picture while leaving out almost all the details. Unlike a lot of people on Twitter, Cole doesn’t spend much time sharing other people’s opinions. But follow him for a while, and his own observations are bound to shape yours.