Michael Chabon looking at Twitter birds
Throughout 2021, Michael Chabon has been tweeting out his thoughts on books, music, food and current events, including goings-on in Israel.

After abandoning Instagram in disgust, @MichaelChabon is speaking his mind on Twitter

On Aug. 3, @michaelchabon tweeted the following to his 16,000 followers: “Remember carob? What was that all about?”

The whimsical tweet touched a nerve, collecting 5,800 likes and hundreds of comments over the next few days. It was a small and unexpected triumph for the tweet’s author, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, Berkeley resident and relative Twitter novice Michael Chabon. For years, the hirsute scribe of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” resisted the siren song that compels so many writers — from Joyce Carol Oates to Gary Shteyngart to Ayelet Waldman (Chabon’s wife) — to share, and perhaps overshare, about their lives on the social media platform.

The @michaelchabon account was created in 2011, but it lay dormant for nearly a decade. During the past year, however, it has become a delightful repository of Chabon’s witticisms, eclectic Spotify playlists, selfies and other ephemera.

In a recent phone interview from Maine, where he has a house and spends part of the year, Chabon explained to J. why he began tweeting, what he likes and doesn’t like about Twitter and how he came to write that carob tweet.

An enthusiastic “phone photographer,” Chabon, 58, was a loyal user of Instagram until he abandoned his account in November 2020 after more than 2,500 posts. He said he was “disgusted and repulsed” that Facebook, which owns Instagram, allowed users to incite violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in 2018 and to spread misinformation about the 2020 U.S. election and Covid-19. He briefly posted on Vero, a platform that bills itself as ad- and algorithm-free, but “there was just nobody there.” Twitter suddenly looked appealing.

“I thought, I’ve had this Twitter account forever, and I had some followers that accumulated over the years even though I never tweeted, so let me go over to Twitter and see what that’s like,” he said. While Twitter “has not been a paragon of integrity,” he asserted that the company has done a “much better” job than Facebook of protecting its users and their data. Plus, “they [permanently] banned Trump, and I appreciated that.”

Chabon sent his first tweet on Dec. 29, 2020; it was a link to a Star Trek–related blog post he published on Medium. (Chabon has focused on screenwriting in recent years, and he is a co-creator of the Paramount+ show “Star Trek: Picard.”) Throughout 2021, he has been tweeting out his thoughts on books, music and current events, including goings-on in Israel.

On July 17, he tweeted that it was “stupid, dangerous and portends great harm” that Israel was reportedly allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. During the fighting between Israel and Hamas in May, he retweeted posts critical of Israel’s actions from left-leaning individuals and organizations, such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. And he has expressed his displeasure with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“My opinion is my opinion, and we’re in the opinion economy equivalent of Weimar Germany, in terms of what opinions are worth,” he explained. “But I do value the ability to amplify, by retweeting and sometimes quote-tweeting, people who actually know what they’re talking about and who live [in Israel and Gaza] and see it with their own eyes.”

A wildly inventive novelist, Chabon has also been experimenting with form on Twitter.

In a recent thread — Twitter lingo for a series of tweets on a single topic — he critiqued the essay prompts of the Common App used by many universities in their admissions process. (Chabon and Waldman’s youngest child, 18-year-old Abe, is currently applying to college.) He even crafted some alternative prompts, including this humorous one: “Research shows that people routinely overestimate their own competence, ability and judgment, and tend, mistakenly, to see themselves as the center of the world. Given this, what accurate information can be learned about you from a personal essay?”

Chabon said his process for writing tweets varies. Sometimes he will take 30 minutes to reflect on a topic, compose a tweet and, if necessary, cut it down to the 280 character limit. Other times, as with the carob tweet, he will fire off a fleeting thought and then forget all about it. “It crossed my mind, why was there carob everywhere for a while? Was chocolate supposed to be bad for you, or was carob supposed to be good for you?” he said. “It was out of my mind 30 seconds after I tweeted it.” The positive response was “totally unexpected, and that’s one way I know I really still don’t understand Twitter.”

Compared to Instagram, where Chabon said he felt as though he were surrounded by friends, Twitter feels much more judgmental to him.

“People feel that part of their job as Twitter users is to pass judgment on you, and they do that much more freely,” he said. “I engage in a lot of self-censorship, not because I feel like I’ll be criticized or condemned, but just because I don’t want to tell the entire world” about developments in his personal life, as he would often do on Instagram.

“I still miss Instagram,” he said wistfully. “I wish they would liberate it from the evil empire of Zuckerberg, but I doubt that will ever happen.”

His favorite accounts to follow on Twitter include those of writers Mat Johnson, Emma Berquist and Benjamin Dreyer. He also follows Waldman, his wife, a prolific tweeter who joined the platform in 2008 and has accumulated nearly 25,000 followers.

Asked by J. if she has given Chabon any advice about how to engage with followers, she replied in an email: “Since I’m the most ridiculous tweeter on earth (it’s terrible for those of us with impulse control issues), I’d never presume to give him advice. Michael has a very specific, fascinating and lovely social media presence. He’s a delight to read.”

Fans of Chabon’s work need not worry that his embrace of Twitter will interfere with his longer writing projects. He told J. he’s making progress on a small-screen adaptation of “Kavalier & Clay” that he’s creating with Waldman. He’s also writing a new novel. For updates on both projects, check his Twitter account.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv.