Follow Friday: The Author of 2011’s Best Book (and 2011’s Best Twitter Feed, Too)

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 9 2011 2:10 PM

Follow Friday: The Author of 2011’s Best Book (and 2011’s Best Twitter Feed, Too)

tejucole
Teju Cole.

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.

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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.

Miriam Krule is a Slate copy editor and edits Slate's religion column "Faith-Based."