Brow Beat

The Future of Literature Is the Book Quote as GIF

The Stanford University Library is home to hundreds of thousands of potential GIFs. 

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new app, working in tandem with Facebook Messenger, allows you to send animated quotes from great works of literature to your friends in basic IMs. The name: GIF Quotes. As Digiday explains, GIF Quotes “is a smidgen more sophisticated than your garden-variety reaction GIF. Rather than focus on moving imagery, the app’s GIFs highlight popular lines from songs, books, movies, and famous people.” You can rummage through the database by “feeling” (“amazing,” “murderous,” “grateful,” “kinky,” even “random,” which will deposit you in arbitrary emotional climes currently dominated by Harry Potter references) or select from 24 “sentiments,” including “please,” “thank you,” “good job,” and “I hate you.” Or you can search for specific, Giphied lines or sources. Sample GIFs from the company webpage pull from bestselling franchises (the Lord of the Rings, the Godfather), capital-C classics (Pride and Prejudice, A Farewell to Arms, Treasure Island), and Dr. Seuss.

Who needs literature when you have GIFs?


“To express what you think or feel,” reads the website, “sometimes you need a good quote. And you need that quote to be animated. Because animated quotes just rock!”

That “If you give a mouse a cookie” rhythm confers an air of inevitability on the idea of literature-as-GIF. (Quotes are great! But do you really need this goat to illustrate your existential awareness that “All flesh is grass”? On second thought, maybe.) But Glose, a startup “building the next-generation social reading platform for ebooks,” and the creator of the app, has even loftier goals than supercharging your e-communiqués. They hope to persuade you to read more: “GIF Quotes lead to books, and reading books lead to everything in life. So get GIF Quotes.”

I wish Glose had simply advertised its brainchild as one more tool, a la emoji or bitmoji or emojito (which I just made up, and should be the emoji you send when you are drunk-texting), for conveying, in online messages, the opaline shivers of emotional nuance. Far be it from me to misunderestimate the expressive power of a GIF! And as a texting innovation, I think the app is awesome. But rather than encouraging us to read more, presenting book snippets in animated frames seems likelier to justify our ever-intensifying habit of plundering our cultural heritage for memes. It is clearly a lot easier and less time-consuming to cherrypick snappy words or phrases than to engage with entire works on their own terms. And if your aim is to craft a beguiling online persona through your quote curation, why retread a worked field by going back to the source? GIF Quotes reads A Clockwork Orange so you don’t have to. You’re welcome, user! Here is a GIF that means “you’re welcome.”

But perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps some young thing will encounter an immortal line of prose (under a GIF of a turtle eating a strawberry) and follow it all the way home to The House of Mirth. Perhaps a cramming student will relate to “time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (under a GIF of the Winnebago from Spaceballs) and start reading Andrew Marvell. At the very least, GIF Quotes represents one way to awaken and recirculate interesting language. For as a wise woman once said, J Law making a face. And furthermore, Jon Hamm photobomb cat falling off a ledge. In conclusion, Beyoncé foot phone. Don’t you feel smarter already?