I was trolling the iTunes app store yesterday and saw the new iPad edition of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” It’s a true e-book, featuring video clips, interviews, and more. Here’s the bulleted list:
- A powerful filmed performance of the entire poem by Fiona Shaw, synchronised to the text
- Complete audio readings of the poem, also synchronised to the text, by T. S. Eliot himself, Alec Guinness, Ted Hughes, and Viggo Mortensen
- Comprehensive interactive notes to guide the user through the poem’s many references
- Over 35 expert video perspectives on the poem, filmed in partnership with BBC Arena, including contributions from Seamus Heaney and Jeanette Winterson
- Original manuscript pages revealing how the poem took shape under Ezra Pound’s editing
And while it looked interesting, the budget is simply too tight this summer for a $14 multimedia exploration of a poem I’ve studied on my own and in classrooms many times. (Did you know April is the cruelest month? True dat.) But it made one thing clear: My hopes that the tablet computer might ease my textbook bill when Kate gets to college are well and truly dashed. The $85 psych 101 textbook will no doubt be the $120 e-textbook by 2015. All that will be reduced is the weight in her backpack.
One of my partners in GrossePointeToday.com is married to a textbook salesman, and I asked her once why they’re so goddamn expensive. (Don’t get me started on net weight; I could work up a sweat bench-pressing Kate’s algebra book this year.) The short answer: Because they contain a lot of expensive material that has to be licensed from the content creator — photos and research and the like. The ink and paper isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. In e-book, true e-book publishing, that money will go to pay Fiona Shaw and Viggo Mortensen, I guess.
First, “The Waste Land” is difficult; even T.S. Eliot acknowledged this in 1922, when he decided to publish notes along with the poem. Touch Press’ version comes with even more notes (by B.C. Southam), illuminating the complex web of literary allusions in those immortal 434 lines. The usual titles at the top of e-book bestseller lists don’t call for this sort of exegesis. There’s not much call to dig deeper unless the book in question has some depth. I don’t really need anyone to help me read a Stieg Larsson thriller, and I don’t plan to be ruminating on it much once I’m done.
… 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. Eliot’s poem is a bit daunting, but undeniably powerful, I told myself when a group of friends arranged a staged reading several years ago. I wish I knew it better, now that I’m more able to grasp its nuances. A new edition often provides the occasion for such revisits, which is one reason why publishers keep commissioning new translations of “Inferno” and “Madame Bovary.”
Sounds like I’m the target demographic. Too bad my classes were canceled this term and I have less spending money.
Which reminds me: I need to get to work. Fer real. I’m late today because I was editing a student intern’s report of a lively city council meeting last night. He mentioned the city’s contribution to “the Divine Plan Foundation.” I stared at this for a minute or two, tried to call him (no luck), then called the city manager, who gently explained it was the defined plan under consideration, i.e., the pension obligation.
Sometimes there isn’t enough coffee in the world.
I have no bloggage of note today, do I? No, I have this:
My friend Lance Mannion on David Mamet and his much-ballyhooed turn to the right.
And now, must run. Kate forgot her Spanish textbook for the turn-in today, so I’ll take the opportunity to cycle over there. While hefty, it’s still manageable.
Be good, all.