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Brush up on classic literature with these immersive apps

Kirk McElhearn | July 8, 2014
Back in the early days of personal computing, the promise of interactive, multimedia, hypertext books was exciting, notably with Voyager's Expanded Books. But in those days, the limits of technology prevented those "books" from gaining a foothold. You could have links and unlimited text content, but the size of videos was just slightly larger than a postage stamp, and audio codecs weren't as advanced as they are today. Also, you had to read them on a computer screen, with the limited resolutions of the time.

Back in the early days of personal computing, the promise of interactive, multimedia, hypertext books was exciting, notably with Voyager's Expanded Books. But in those days, the limits of technology prevented those "books" from gaining a foothold. You could have links and unlimited text content, but the size of videos was just slightly larger than a postage stamp, and audio codecs weren't as advanced as they are today. Also, you had to read them on a computer screen, with the limited resolutions of the time.

The iPad offers such powerful features — and excellent resolution — that truly enhanced books are possible. Here are six apps for the iPad that have popped up in recent years that look at great literature, paying homage to fantastic works while adding new layers.

Shakespeare

Let's start with the Bard of Avon, Will Shakespeare. Both poet and playwright are represented with excellent apps. Touch Press's $14 The Sonnets by William Shakespeare is a perfect example of what's possible in an enhanced book. Not only do you get the text itself and notes from the Arden Shakespeare edition, but you also get videos of actors and Shakespeare specialists reading all 154 sonnets. There's a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto edition of the poems, and plenty of background information to help you understand them.

If you want the plays, PlayShakespeare.com's free Shakespeare and $10 Shakespeare Pro give you all 41 plays (this includes a few that may not be by Shakespeare), and the long poems, as well as the sonnets. These apps are mostly about the texts, but there's no better collection of Shakespeare's works for iOS.

The pro version contains loads of extra features, such as texts in the original spelling, a tap-and-click glossary of words you may not be familiar with, and the ability to add notes and bookmarks. If you're a Bardophile, it's worth the money. (Both of these apps are also iPhone compatible.)

James Joyce

James Joyce is another author whose works lend themselves to this approach. Naxos' $9 Joyce's Ulysses: A Guide unlocks the doors to that reputedly difficult classic novel. With a full text, replete with hundreds of annotations, and plenty of background information, you can dive into Ulysses with no fear of getting lost. There's information about Joyce's life, the music in the book, a brief recording of Joyce reading from it, and even an abridged audiobook of Ulysses (the full version is too costly to be included in the app).

I wish the app had a map of Dublin, showing the peregrinations of the two main characters, but there's enough background information to shepherd you through the novel. If you've put off reading Ulysses because of its difficult reputation, you'll find this app may help you take the plunge.

 

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