John Naughton writes in this week’s Observer about an extraordinarily illuminating app that enabled him to access that intractable poem, ‘The Waste Land’. It’s a digital edition of the poem in the form of a ‘living book’.

The publishers, Touch Press, say that such books ‘define the future of publishing’. Naughton thinks they are ‘better described as makers of beautiful things for multimedia devices’.

Perhaps this is a sign that a mediating ‘3rd culture’ proposed – ultimately – by C P Snow may be on the horizon.

The app provides the full text of the poem as one would expect. In addition, there are interactive notes; a ‘vivid’ film performance and audio recordings of the poem, synchronised to the text; expert video perspectives; and a complete set of facsimiles of the manuscript pages, revealing how the poem took shape.

For Naughton,

the really eye-opening experience was listening to the poem being read, and following the highlight as it moved through the text…. Sitting there, iPad on lap, it was as though the poem had suddenly burst into life’.

He sees this not so much as the future of the book as

a demonstration of the potential of technology to a work of art … Eliot’s poem had effectively been closed off to me for decades. Now it isn’t.

When I read this I was reminded of a previous post  in which I included a clip of a remarkable full-length interactive book. It has clever, swipeable video and graphics and some fascinating visualizations to play with. The book is “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth.” 

This is not The Future of books but The Present. Many of us own Kindles, or other e-readers. But that doesn’t stop us from buying and reading paper too. It seems that sales of books in both manifestations are on the increase. Such apps as John Naughton describes can only add to the gaiety of nations, surely?