System requirements for books

A friend posted a link to a review of a really interesting ebook edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. It includes a bunch of extras: a recording of Eliot reading the poem, several versions of the text, including one with comments by Ezra Pound, his editor. It’s by Touchpress, who did The Elements, which was one of the original arguments for buying an iPad in the first place. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a $14.95 app for the iPad. I’m a librarian, I work with the English Department, this would be cool to have. But I don’t have an iPad, and it would be awkward to get onto our departmental one. Which got me thinking about the pros and cons of different formats.

I’m not sure I agree this is what a next-generation classic should look like, because it has a five hundred dollar prerequisite. Touchpress has decided to make the (famously incomprehensible) Waste Land more interactive, and to include a variety of means (audio and text) to help you understand it. This is good.

The Poetry Foundation version, though, comes with the whole web. That is, if you can get to their website you can open another window and easily find Eliot’s audio as well as other readings of it and explanations of the inscrutable parts and the parts in foreign languages. That requires a computer and a web connection, which you could get from your local library if you didn’t have your own.

I also have a copy of it I bought for a dollar on the shelf behind me, the Dover edition. It only requires that I know how to read. I’m not sure that makes it superior, but it does mean that every library can have a copy. And, delightfully, that sometimes stationery stores have a rack of Dover editions as well.

Part of why something becomes a Great Book is that it is widely read and discussed. I tend to think that the web or a cheap printed book are still the ways to reach the largest possible audience.

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Boston area academic librarian and instructional designer. News junkie. Fan of marine mammals, October.