John Walsh: App-ril is the cruellest month?

Share
Related Topics

When Faber & Faber announced in June they were offering TS Eliot's The Waste Land as an iPad app, a lot of us Luddites snorted and rolled our eyes to heaven, and said, "My dear, what would poor Tom Stearns have made of this?" But we agreed that, if you really couldn't get to grips with the actual words of the Modernist masterpiece, the app certainly offered you a lot for £7.99 – recordings of the poem being read by Alec Guinness, Ted Hughes, Viggo Mortensen and TSE himself (sounding like a depressed bank manager throughout); a dramatised, intensely physical reading by Fiona Shaw; and hyperlinked commentaries from 30-odd literary chaps from Seamus Heaney to Craig Raine.

It was a veritable feast of Eliotiana. In recognition of the poem's difficulty, the poet had, of course, provided his own footnotes, many of them playfully misleading, when it was published in 1922 – now here were a few hundred more, handsomely filmed by the BBC and produced by Faber's high-tech collaborator, the Touch Press. It was a lovely package for the baffled poetry lover and it would sell, I confidently predicted, ooh, 13 copies.

Well, I was wrong. The Waste Land app scorched up the iPad book charts. It's beaten all rivals, including the immensely distinguished Angry Birds. TS Eliot is at Number One in the digital literary hierarchy for the first time since he won the Nobel Prize in 1946. Its success has taken everyone by surprise, including its publisher. "We're completely astonished," Henry Volans, Faber's head of digital books, told me, "and we have absolutely no idea who's buying it. We suspect it isn't literature students, but general iPad users who've always wanted to understand the poem."

To my great surprise, its success has rather changed my mind about technology and books. Speaking as a resolute Kindle-hater from Day One, a caller of anathema upon all attempts to turn literary classics into comics, condensed booklets or multimedia extravaganzas, I find myself thinking, "Blimey, a poem with at-a-click spoken voices and techno-footnotes, that's a good idea." The idea that there's a poetry audience out there that isn't saying, "I can't understand a word of this" but "Oh good, perhaps I can understand Eliot at last" is immensely cheering, even if you have to spend £450 for the privilege.

Where do we go from here? Faber were so caught on the hop by The Waste Land's storming the charts, they don't have a follow-up ready. "I'm looking through lots of difficult, important, universal works at present and considering what might be done with them," says Volans. "People clearly like books which are a bit difficult but are worth investigating."

If they want books that are "difficult but worth investigating", Faber are spoilt for choice. They could start with Ulysses (published the same year as The Waste Land), offering a parallel text of Homer's Odyssey alongside James Joyce's own, a blizzard of footnotes that would link the book's million or so cross-references and classical allusions, plus a reading from Molly Bloom's rude soliloquy by, say, the husky Dublin blues singer Imelda May. Or they could publish Tristram Shandy, a massive shaggy-dog story, with an ever-growing shaggy dog on every page. As for Lady Chatterley's Lover... This, ladies and gentlemen, is undoubtedly the future of the book. What's not to love?

Nigella as nature intended? Call the police!

Neighbours of Nigella Lawson have complained that the flirtatious chef has been wandering about her Chelsea home in the nude. It's outrageous isn't it? These poor neighbours, going about their ordinary business, late at night or first thing in the morning, have had the undulating curves of one of the nation's great beauties forced upon their shocked eyes. How awful. It seems that, after some building work, a bathroom door has not been installed at the end of an upstairs gallery. "It isn't a case of deliberately looking in," whined a spokesman for the neighbours, "but there is a view into the bathroom, and anyone glancing in the direction of the loggia can glimpse what's going on." They forgot to add, "...while standing on one leg, and manipulating the solar telescope through the attic window."

They'll be banning the javelin next

I laughed when I heard about Boris Johnson and the shooters. The Mayor is to give away 125,000 Olympic Games tickets to London schoolchildren – but not tickets to any of the nine events featuring firearms. Too risky. Johnson and the Games organisers fear there'll be trouble from the anti-gun lobby if children are allowed to watch contestants shooting pistols at targets, shotguns at clay pigeons. It would only inspire them to go rioting, apparently. Giving kids tickets to the "50-metre rifle, three positions" event is simply asking for trouble, three times over.

"I agree with Boris," says Danny Bryan, founder of Communities Against Gun and Knife Crime. "It is good kids should enjoy the Games, but there's no way we should glorify guns."

For heaven's sake. Is there any point in telling Danny and Boris that the Games do nothing of the sort, that they glorify marksmanship, precision, a steady hand and a hawk-like eye?

And if you're afraid of giving children the wrong idea, why stop with guns? Can you let them attend archery events, and run the risk that policemen will be punctured with arrows like pin-cushions when things next kick off in Hackney? Shouldn't you ban the javelin event, if you don't want the air at the next London riot to be filled with flying spears?



j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Cyclists v the rest of the world – can we please call a truce?

Philip Hoare
Brooks Newmark  

If Brooks Newmark is ‘sick’ what does that say about the rest of us?

Simon Kelner
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style