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THERE was an unexpected coup in the digital books kingdom this month. For weeks the top-selling book app for Apple’s iPad was one starring the superheroes of Marvel Comics: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Thor and the rest of the gang. Then, kapow!, the masked and caped crusaders were knocked out by a long-dead poet (and unofficial patron of this column), Thomas Stearns Eliot and his 1922 modernist classic The Waste Land. Now, the most I usually pay for an app is a few bucks, so it was a significant investment to shell out $16.99 for a digital version of The Waste Land, especially when I own several copies in the dead tree format. Well, it’s worth every cent, and indeed seems to me a model for publishing great literature in the electronic era. The Waste Land app (an abbreviation of application, for the uninitiated) was created by Touch Press in partnership with Eliot’s publisher Faber & Faber. Touch Press, which had a hit with an educational app about the solar system, says its mission is to ‘‘redefine the book, reinvent publishing and forever transform the act of reading’’. This Eliot app certainly goes some way towards this, and it’s the most enjoyable e-reading experience I’ve had. And I’m not alone: at the time of writing, The Waste Land, released at the start of the month, was the top-grossing iPad book app. So, how does it work? As with most poetry, the best way to appreciate The Waste Land is to hear it, and this app has two readings by Eliot (recorded in 1933 and 1947) as well as ones by poet Ted Hughes and actors Alec Guinness, Fiona Shaw and Viggo Mortensen (yes, The Lord of the Rings bloke). Shaw, an Irish actor who performed The Waste Land on stage, also does a video reading. As you listen to or watch any of these, you can follow the text of the poem on the screen. You can skip forward or backward to listen to a particular passage. I did this to hear each rendition of the famous lines from The Burial of the Dead section: And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust. Sir Alec tops them all, for my money. And if you are curious about that line about a handful of dust, you can call up an annotated version of the poem and learn of its links to Donne, Tennyson, Conrad and, of course, the Bible. There’s also a facsimile of Eliot’s original manuscript, covered with Ezra Pound’s handwritten edits. And there’s video commentary by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who admits to be terrified by The Waste Land on first meeting, poet and Eliot expert Craig Raine and American writer Jeanette Winterson, who asks: ‘‘Is Eliot difficult?’’ I would love to see Shakespeare’s works in this format, along with countless other classics. What a terrific resource for students that would be. If this is the future of reading, I’m excited by it.