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

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project