These Bookish Millennials Make Memes Worth Reading Into

Nov 11, 2014
Originally published on November 25, 2014 1:47 pm

This story is part of the New Boom series on millennials in America.

A recent Pew study found that millennials are more likely to have read a book in the past year than Americans over the age of 30. The finding flies in the face of a popular critique of millennials: that all they consume is Internet frippery — listicles, parodies, memes and quizzes.

But the two aren't mutually exclusive — there's a corner of the Internet where millennials are making viral content that is decidedly bookish. When Kanye West released "Bound 2" last year, the music video — which has Kim Kardashian doing a lot of blinking and bouncing on a motorcycle — became instant fodder for parodies by the likes of South Park and Saturday Night Live. But you might have missed "Hardcover Bound 2," a parody by Annabelle Quezada and La Shea Delaney that replaces rhymes about Kardashian with lines about books.

Quezada and Delaney's first spoof was of West and Jay-Z's "Ni - - as In Paris." It all started when Delaney tweeted: "Read so hard librarians tryin' to fine me." At the time, she lived in New York, where she got her MFA and taught English.

"I tweeted that and fell asleep," Delaney says. "And I feel like a day later Annabelle had texted me and said, 'I have lyrics, let's shoot a video.' "

"We were bookifying everything," says Quezada, a freelance filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. For example, when Jay-Z shouts out celebrities with the first name Michael — Jackson, Tyson, Jordan — Quezada nods to writers who went by William — Burroughs, Golding, Shakespeare.

Quezada and Delaney aren't the only ones making smart Internet content disguised as the more frivolous stuff that floats through our feeds. For the website The Millions, Janet Potter rewrote the titles of classic novels as click-bait headlines.

"So, for example," Potter says, "you would see the cover of Moby Dick but we've taken out the headline ... and instead it says: They Told Him White Whales Were Impossible to Hunt. That's When He Went Literally Crazy. That's actually my favorite."

Potter says content like this appeals to a certain kind of audience. "I think the people who get this post have one foot in both worlds. [They] are, you know, well-read, very literate, but also are very familiar with today's Internet."

They're the same people who got in on the hashtag #HipsterBooks (created by Grand Central Publishing) and tweeted Remembrance of Things Pabst and The Selfie of Dorian Gray. They could also decipher the first lines of novels that Slate recently spelled out in emojis.

Isaac Fitzgerald is the books editor for BuzzFeed, that grand purveyor of listicles for millennials. (Though, he'd like to state for the record that "listicles" and "millennials" are two of his least favorite words.) He says, "We don't do reviews so much as we want to be your friend who's, like, grabbing your sleeve and saying, 'This is the book that you need to read.' "

BuzzFeed Books is two parts literary pun names for your cat, one part contemporary writing. But writer Karl Taro Greenfeld is skeptical. He says, "If the idea is that Internet users are becoming more educated because they're reading listicles or some sort of Buzzfeed click-bait that is derived from literary content, I think that's a bit specious."

Earlier this year, Greenfeld wrote an op-ed for The New York Times called "Faking Cultural Literacy." He says you don't, in fact, have to be well-read to get this stuff, and he worries that reading content derived from books might replace reading actual books.

"Rather than encouraging one necessarily to go investigate the primary source and actually read Jane Austen," he says, "I wonder if that's actually convincing people that, 'Well, I don't need to read it because I can build some plausible version of thought about this subject without having to read it.' "

If you ask linguist Arika Okrent, who contributes articles (including listicles) to Mental Floss, the listicle itself is a literary form. She points out that the listicle has a predicable structure, like a limerick or a haiku. "It happens to be most commonly used for dumbed-down distraction, but there's nothing about the fact of a list itself that makes that necessary."

People write poetry on Twitter, so why can't they write fiction in the form of lists? If you're despairing about the end of letters at this point, Isaac Fitzgerald has this to say:

"Seriously? I feel like there's no industry that's more obsessed with its own demise than publishing. But it's been like that since the printing press. I'm sure there were just monks that were like, 'Well, what about our hand-painted letter books? Those were the only real books. This printing press stuff is trash.' "

The kids might read in a different way, but we still read. If you aren't convinced, check out one of BuzzFeed Books' most popular listicles: 65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s.

Copyright 2014 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.vpr.net.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There's a good chance that even some members of the millennial generation do not quite realize this about themselves - they're big readers - more so than their elders. A recent Pew study found that younger people are more likely to have read a book in the past year than Americans over the age of 30. We reports this as part of our series called the New Boom. The finding flies in the face of a popular critique of millennials, that all they consume is the Internet, listicles, parodies, memes, quizzes. Well, it turns out the two are not mutually exclusive. Vermont Public Radio's Angela Evancie spent time in a corner of the web where members of her generation are making viral content that is bookish.

ANGELA EVANCIE, BYLINE: When Kanye West released "Bound 2" last year, the music video with Kim Kardashian doing a lot of blinking and bouncing on a motorcycle became instant fodder for parity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARDCOVER BOUND 2")

EVANCIE: "South Park," "Saturday Night Live" - but you might've missed this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARDCOVER BOUND 2")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SINGER: (Singing) Your eyes get tired from reading a good book on a Saturday night.

EVANCIE: "Hardcover Bound 2," create a by Annabelle Quezada and La Shea Delaney. In place of rhymes about Kim, lines about books.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARDCOVER BOUND 2")

ANNABELLE QUEZADA: (Singing) Met my book club on a Wednesday. "Brave New World" put me in a frenzy.

EVANCIE: Quezada and Delaney's first spoof was of this song by Kanye and Jay Z.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "N****** IN PARIS")

JAY Z: (Rapping) Ball so hard [bleep] want to fine me.

EVANCIE: It all started when Delaney tweeted, read so hard librarians try to fine me.

LA SHEA DELANEY: I tweeted that and fell asleep.

EVANCIE: At the time La Shea Delaney lived in New York, where she got her MFA and taught English.

DELANEY: And I feel like a day later, Annabelle had texted me and said, I have lyrics, let's shoot a video.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "B****ES IN BOOKSHOPS")

QUEZADA: (Rapping) Read so hard library's tryin' to fine me. They can't identify me. Checked in with a pseudonym, so I guess you can say I'm Mark Twaining.

You know, we were bookifying everything.

EVANCIE: Annabelle Quezada is a freelance filmmaker. She lives in Brooklyn.

QUEZADA: So, as an example, Jay Z shouts out all these basketball players. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio of this story, incorrectly states that in "N- - - - - In Paris," Jay Z lists names of basketball players. In fact, he is listing celebrities with the first name Michael.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "N****** IN PARIS")

JAY Z: (Rapping) Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, game six.

QUEZADA: We shout out writers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "B****ES IN BOOKSHOPS")

QUEZADA: (Rapping) Burroughs, Golding, Shakespeare - all dead.

EVANCIE: Quezada and Delaney aren't the only ones making smart Internet content disguised as the more frivolous stuff that floats through our feeds. For the website The Millions, Janet Potter rewrote the titles of classic novels as click-bait headlines.

JANET POTTER: So, for example, you would see the cover of "Moby Dick." But we've taken out the headline that would say "Moby Dick," and instead it says, they told him white whales were impossible to hunt. That's when he went literally crazy. That's actually my favorite.

EVANCIE: Potter says content like this appeals to a certain kind of audience.

POTTER: I think the people who get this post have one foot in both worlds, who are, you know, well-read, very literate, but also are very familiar with today's Internet.

EVANCIE: These are the people who got in on the hash tag #Hipsterbooks, created by Grand Central Publishing and tweeted, Remembrance Of Things Pabst and the Selfie of Dorian Gray. They're the ones who could decipher the first lines of novels that Slate recently spelled out in emojis, those colorful icons.

ISSAC FITZGERALD: Is it going to get me kicked out of the studio if I say that along with listicles, millennials is my other least favorite word in the world?

EVANCIE: That's Isaac Fitzgerald, the editor of BuzzFeed Books - BuzzFeed being the grand purveyor of listicles for millennials.

FITZGERALD: We don't do reviews so much as we want to be your friend who's, like, grabbing your sleeve and saying, this is the book that you need to read.

EVANCIE: Two parts literary pun names for your cat, one part contemporary writing. But Karl Taro Greenfeld is skeptical.

KARL TARO GREENFELD: If the idea is that Internet users are becoming more educated because they're reading listicles or some sort of BuzzFeed click-bait that is derived from literary content, I think that's a bit specious.

EVANCIE: Earlier this year, Greenfeld wrote an op-ed for The New York Times called "Faking Cultural Literacy." He says you don't, in fact, have to be well-read to get this stuff. And he worries that reading content derived from books might replace reading actual books.

GREENFELD: Rather than encouraging one necessarily to go investigate the primary source and actually read Jane Austen, I wonder if that's actually convincing people that, well, I don't need to read it because I can build some plausible version of thought about this subject without having to read it.

EVANCIE: But if you ask Arika Okrent, the listicle itself is a literary form. Okrent is a linguist living in Chicago. She points out the listicle has a predictable structure, like a limerick or a haiku.

ARIKA OKRENT: It happens to be most commonly used for dumbed-down distraction, but there's nothing about the fact of a list itself that makes that necessary.

EVANCIE: People write poetry on Twitter, so why can't they write fiction in the form of lists? If you're despairing for the end of letters at this point, Isaac Fitzgerald has these words for you.

FITZGERALD: Seriously? I feel like there's no industry that's more obsessed with its own demise than publishing. But it's been like that since the printing press. I'm sure there were just monks that were like, well, what about our hand-painted letter books? Those were the only real books; this printing press stuff is trash.

EVANCIE: The kids might read in a different way, but we still read. One of BuzzFeed Books' most popular listicles - "65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s." For NPR News, I'm Angela Evancie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "B****ES IN BOOKSHOPS")

QUEZADA: (Rapping) I am now marking my place, don't wanna crease in my page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.