Justin Halpern, the Twitter celeb behind "$#*! My Dad Says," urges kids to read
Studies suggest that consuming short blasts of information has led to Web-induced attention deficit, making today's youth more impulsive and impatient and far less likely to log off long enough to leap into the pages of a good book.
So the irony is not lost on Justin Halpern that he has been enlisted to encourage kids to read.
"I think I am part of the problem," admitted Halpern, who created the popular Twitter feed that was turned into a bestselling memoir and a CBS comedy, "$#*! My Dad Says," starring William Shatner. "Scratch that," Halpern said. "I would say I am definitely part of the problem."
Halpern, who found fame and good fortune on Twitter, realized just how short attention spans had become when he scanned a brief book review of the first 743-page volume of Mark Twain's autobiography, released 100 years after the author's death, which Halpern gave his dad for Christmas.
"It was such a silly thing reading this 50-word review of this 4-pound book in my lap," Halpern said.
Halpern, along with spiritual advisor Deepak Chopra and celebrity chef Eric Ripert, contributed a compilation of books he enjoyed (David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," to name two) and books his dad reads (John Steinbeck and James Joyce are favorite authors) to Read for a Cause, a yearlong campaign from San Francisco Internet company Scribd.com to encourage other people to share their favorite books.
The campaign benefits Room to Read, an international literacy organization that builds libraries in underserved communities.
"There is so much media coming at kids before they are even able to process it. If they can just sit down and focus on a book, they can sit down and focus on a lot of things," Halpern said.
Samuel Halpern, a retired doctor from San Diego, bonded with his son over books. As a child, Justin would climb into his dad's lap for a few pages at bedtime. If Samuel Halpern wanted Justin to fall asleep quickly, he would read to him from Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media." Justin was 7 at the time.
But his take on this generation's Internet fixation and on Twitter itself exceeds Twitter's 140-character limit by several orders of magnitude.
"He thinks Twitter is the dumbest thing he has ever seen in his entire life," Justin Halpern said. "The only reason I didn't put that up on Twitter as one of his quotes is that I felt like it was biting the hand that feeds me."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo (top): WIlliam Shatner plays Justin Halpern's dad on "$#*! My Dad Says." Credit: CBS
Photo (bottom): Justin Halpern, right, and his father, Samuel Halpern, third from the right, attending the World Baseball Classic with Justin Halpern's friend Brad Lamers, sitting in the middle. Credit: Patrick Schumacker / For The Times