Review: Hatching Twitter

Rating: ★★★★1/2

For a book about Twitter, it would be apt to keep this review under 140 characters, but I’m far too wordy and this book was far too good for that.

Nick Bilton’s Hatching Twitter was the first book I read in 2016 and it was a perfect start. Hatching Twitter was full of drama, betrayal, and power dynamics. It was also fast-paced and riveting.

It’s impossible to not compare this book to The Social Network, the film about the tumultuous founding of Facebook. The tagline of the movie is “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” and I’ve come up with a few possible taglines for the book:

“You don’t get to 200 million users without losing every single friend you have.”
“The male ego creates monsters.”
“Who let these guys inadvertently change social media, news, and the world?”

The book follows the four founders of Twitter — Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone — as they stumble their way into creating one of the greatest websites of all time.

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At the beginning of the novel, they’re a group of separate-yet-connected Silicon Valley tech nerds chasing fame, evading loneliness, and trying to make their mark on the world. By the end, each of the four founders have been ousted from the company they created and most are no longer on speaking terms with each other. It reads like a Shakespearean tragedy (minus the murder) — a testament to Bilton’s writing and reporting.

The book’s structure — short vignettes focusing on each of the founders — mirrors the theme and plot: each character has their moment before another character steals the spotlight (or CEO role at Twitter).

The core power struggle is Ev and Jack’s fundamental philosophies of what Twitter was. Jack believed it was a way to update one’s status, to focus on the “me” and “I,” not the collective “we.” Whereas Ev believe it was a way to learn about other people — what they were doing and where they were. It seemed like the smallest difference in vision, but it was everything. And, like Bilton, I agree that Twitter would not exist without both of these philosophies. Ev and Jack are the yin and yang on which Twitter was founded and the bedrock of everything that has happened since.

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It’s amazing how much I felt for some of these men and how little I felt for others. The amount of empathy I felt for Ev and Noah was only matched by my disdain for Jack. Each of them are smart, passionate, power-hungry, tech-saavy, and — perhaps above all else — lonely. It is the loneliness that drives them to create the web’s ultimate symbol of connection: Twitter.

Favorite Quotes

“There he would teach himself how to write code, his only friends the crickets he could hear gathered around the garage cheering him on as he learned to speak a language only computers could understand.”

“Noah wanted to succeed, to break radio and put it back together again.”

“If you were able to look closely enough at Commander Hadfield’s photo, zooming into the intricate web of city streets, houses, and office, buildings, the parks and beaches, you would be able to see Jack, Ev, BIz, and Noah wandering the city — separately, together.”

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Final Thoughts

This book read as quickly as a Twitter timeline and that’s a compliment. It’s a portrait of a company and the four men who founded it, and the ways they hurt each other (consciously or unconsciously) to get to the top. These men display a type of ambition that I cannot frankly understand — the ambition that rots you from the inside out. Hatching Twitter was an amazing read that gives a glimpse into the brutal, bloody history of one of the greatest websites ever created, and the men who destroyed themselves and each other for a taste of infamy.


Review: Orange is the New Black

By Carolyn Quimby | @CarolynQuimby, @WornBookSmell

Rating: ★★★

Since the season two premiere last Friday, the internet has been aflutter with all things Orange is the New Black. Having just finished the second season yesterday, I figured it was the perfect time to finally review Piper Kerman’s memoir, which shares the same name. OITNB

Like many people, I was brought to Kerman’s memoir through the Netflix original series. It was a book I may never have discovered otherwise, but I’m glad I did. What I will say is that the book is very much imprinted on the show (well, the first season anyway). However, like every other adaptation in history, there are similarities and differences, and it was in those differences that I found myself drawn to Kerman’s voice.

Sometimes the show can get too campy and gruesome and hardcore compared to the book. The over-the-top violence and sexuality is great for television, but Kerman’s memoir is softer and less outlandish, but still interesting.

(Major and minor spoilers ahead)

1. The transparent forward

Memoir can be a slippery genre in terms of  truth and the real, which is one of the reasons why I love it. Let’s face it: when an author writes a memoir, they are writing a memoir of everyone they interact with — for better or worse. Writing your own story is one thing, but writing someone else’s is another — it’s an ethical boundary that every nonfiction writer has grappled with; a line they constantly flirt with.

Similar to Cheryl Strayed’s intensely transparent and honest forward in Wild, Kerman is upfront about the details and anecdotes she’s altered. She not only changed names, but distinguishing features and details, to protect the prisoners she encountered while locked up. In fact, only two women kept their real names because Kerman had been granted their permission.

It might be a personal quirk, but I really love when writers are upfront about their craft (especially in nonfiction).

2. Kerman is (fairly) self-aware

Book Piper is so much more attuned to her privilege than TV show Piper. There were countless times in the memoir when she talks about how much more fortunate and well-off she was compared to the other prisoners. Not only did she have friends and family willing to travel hours to visit her, but she also had their financial support.

The idea of Piper’s “library” as a status symbol was a lovely, yet sad, detail. As someone who grew up extremely middle class, it seemed absurd that having too many books could make you the envy of a prison. Disposable income was a foreign concept to so many of the prisoners, and Kerman was able to convey that (as well as her upper-crust education) through her “library” anecdotes.

OITNB3. Larry is not a jerk

Unlike the show, which dramatizes Piper and Larry’s relationship to the point of annoyance, Book Larry is likeable and supportive. They are not without their struggles. The loneliness and yearning and missing is still there, but they manage to get through it. Despite the stress Piper’s past put on their relationships, it was nice that she still had a person who she could call home.

4. Stereotypes and not being PC

Like everything, there were problematic parts of the book. Kerman calls one inmate “dyky” and another group “Eminem-lettes” aka “white trash.” While she recognizes her privilege, she relies on tired and frankly offensive stereotypes to flesh out characters. There are so many ways to make these women come alive, and to rely on their appearance or assumptions is careless writing.

This is one way the book pales to the show. The show has created an ensemble full of incredible, flawed, beautifully-broken women, and the book has almost none of that — or very few of note. Yes, I understand this is Kerman’s memoir, but she was impacted by these women and to give them anything other than three-dimensional representation is unfair.

Overall, I enjoyed Orange is the New Black. It was a quick and light read (weirdly enough), so I read (and listened to) it in between novels. I had never read a “prison novel” before and it was nice to read one from a woman’s perspective. The book, while limited in scope (the protagonist is a white, middle-class, highly-educated white woman), is still one that illuminates a part of our society that is usually silenced and ignored.

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Did you read Orange is the New Black? What did you think? What is the last memoir you read?