An eBook for Young and Old

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It’s almost hard to believe that T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has managed to become one of the top-grossing iPad book apps this year1. It’s dated (forgive me) and not something you see young men and women reading these days, which is why the ePublishing industry knew to aim this book app at older audiences (not that the younger ones can’t enjoy it).

For those unfamiliar with it, “The Waste Land” is a classic 434-line poem written in 1922 by the Nobel prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot. It’s a complicated text full of satire mixed with prophecy, and the nonlinear narration makes for a more challenging read, but a rewarding one as well. “The Waste Land” is considered one of the great poems of the 20th century—and now it’s brought to consumers via enhanced eBook.

What’s so innovative about this app is that it allows consumers to read the text along with a narrator who performs the poem with such enthusiasm that it’s impossible for consumers not to love what they’re seeing, hearing and reading.

Laura Miller of Salon gives us the features in a nutshell: “You can watch Fiona Shaw read for a while, then switch back to the text to check a reference or translation, then go on reading the lines to the accompaniment of Ted Hughes’ very different vocal interpretation; the app keeps track of your place as you go. Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound played a crucial role in shaping ‘The Waste Land’; and the inclusion of the original manuscript with Pound’s handwritten edits offers a glimpse of that process. These various ways of approaching the text are enticements to the multiple readings that make a full appreciation of the poem possible.2

This app is designed to be nostalgic, one for men and women who read this classic poem many years ago and want to see the pages come to life. Surely, the multimedia capabilities of the app can add loads to the experience.

“Finally, ‘The Waste Land’ is familiar. Publishers may tell themselves that students will buy the app because of its filmed performance by the great Irish actress Fiona Shaw and its audio recordings by Alec Guinness, Viggo Mortensen and the poet himself—not to mention video commentaries by such luminaries as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. I don’t think so, not when you can get a used paperback copy for a buck or just download the thing for free off the Internet. Instead, the people willing to shell out a premium for ‘The Waste Land’ app are more likely to be older, the sort who feel they could have gotten a lot more out of the poem in college if they’d only been a little less distracted by the temptations that assail freshman English majors,” says Miller.

This type of app is something that interests older audience as well as writers (such as our fearless editor Megan Kellerman) who will undoubtedly love to geek over this collection in a whole new way. There’s something rewarding about hearing Eliot himself read his poetry; but as a reader hears more and more voices interpret the poem, it takes on a whole new meaning. It comes alive in a way older audiences could have never imagined.

The ePublishing market will continue to succeed if they keep looking into these types of book apps. Maybe more contemporary authors such as David Foster Wallace (whose narration would have made his text SO much easier) or Dave Eggers (with his ironic tone) or David Sedaris (whose collection of writings should already be compiled in audiobook) would do the job. Whichever way, ePublishing is one of the reasons we can have nice things.




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