Charles Dickens began his career as one of London’s top journalists. As a teenager, he learned a system of shorthand and practiced it so skillfully that he won competitions among reporters based on speed and accuracy. All his life, Dickens looked for the smartest ways to bring timely stories to his ever-growing audience. When he first switched to fiction, Dickens wrote funny vignettes of life in the big city, skewering many of the larger-than-life figures he encountered in London. Today, Dickens surely would be in the forefront of embracing the Internet. We’re not alone in drawing that conclusion—it’s also the argument made in the official Dickens 2012 iPad App that was released late Tuesday as part of a Dickens bicentennial festival.
Want to read more about the Dickens 2012 Bicentennial celebration? Our Holidays and Festival column has the full details.
AMAZON KINDLE FREELY OFFERING CHARLES DICKENS’ BOOKS
The great news for Kindle owners (or readers with Kindle apps on other devices) is that Amazon pretty much is giving away the works of Charles Dickens. Here is the Amazon Dickens’ Author Page on Amazon, where you’ll find that most of his works are priced at the very attractive: $0.00 for the Kindle versions. So, what to choose first? From that long list—as editor of ReadTheSpirit and a life-long Dickens buff—I would urge you to start with either David Copperfield or Bleak House. Copperfield has the serpentine villain Uriah Heap and the amusing rogue Mr. Micawber. If you want to dive into the deep end of the Dickens’ ocean, then tackle Bleak House, which many critics regard as a master work.
Also note: If you visit the Dickens page on Amazon, you’ll find other authors linked in the right-hand column—and you’ll find that many of their works also are free (or nearly free) on Kindle.
Kindle Fire Users already know: While the Fire is advertised as a competitor to the iPad—any Kindle Fire owner knows that it’s not, by a long shot. Mainly, it’s much cheaper than an iPad. So, if you’re looking for Dickens Apps—see the items below. There are some Apps available for the Kindle Fire, but most are second-class versions of more exciting Apple Store options. And, for the Dickens’ bi-centennial—sorry to say, all the really cool Apps are on the iPad.
BEST DICKENS APP: Dickens Newspapers, Part of Dickens 2012
On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, the Prince of Wales and other British leaders gathered with Dickens buffs and Dickens’ descendants to lay a wreath near his tomb in Westminster Abbey. He was praised with music, prayer and ritual. But his 200th birthday is only beginning and many Brits are hoping his enduring appeal will lead to increased tourism this summer. (Along with the Queen’s Diamond Jubliee, of course.) Tons of Dickens’ books and digital Apps now circle the globe—but one special Apple App was created by graphic designer Kent Lyons and launched in conjunction with the Westminster ceremony.
Other multi-media designers have grabbed similar concepts, drawn from Dickens’ lifelong love of vigorous walking all around the London area. In his prime, the author was infamous for getting rid of boring guests by inviting them on a walk—then leaving them in the dust in a far longer and far faster hike than they had ever imagined. The historical fact that Dickens was a frequent walker is a designer’s dream: Dickens loved London streets; the UK loves to promote tourism; Dickens’ fans love to walk where the master trod.
Lyons plans to release six editions of “Dickens Newspapers” (and note that phrase—typing it precisely into the iTunes store ‘Search’ box is about the only way you’ll find this brand-new App). The first “edition” of the planned six parts is called Night Walks and uses a magazine column that Dickens actually wrote about strolling the city during a bout of insomnia. Not only is Lyons’ design of the typeface and animation brilliant—but here’s the really cool part of the App: Read it like a book and you’ll get Dickens’ text. Tilt each page sideways on the iPad (to landscape format) and suddenly high-res photos (or a few short videos) will pop up showing you what these areas of London look like today. Whether you’re planning a trip to the UK, or you simply love Dickens—get this free App now.
MULTI-MEDIA FUN WITH DICKENS’ ALL-TIME BEST SELLER
Of course, A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ all-time, record-setting hit. Countless versions of the tale are available in virtually every form of media imaginable from old radio recordings by Orson Welles to Disney cartoons to historical reproductions of original etchings. Artist and pop-up book designer Chuck Fischer released a pop-up version of A Christmas Carol in 2010. Just before this past Christmas, he poured his artwork into a multi-media Apple App. As editor of ReadTheSpirit, I can tell you: I’ve enjoyed that iPad App Christmas Carol for a couple of months—and it’s fun. Hand-painted imagery decorates every page, plus there are plenty of full-page scenes with animations. (The illustration here shows the App’s “front cover” and one full-page painting.) Some animations pop on their own throughout the book. Others require tilting or tapping. There is a “Free” version of the Chuck Fischer App in the Apple Store. But, it’s a pale version of the full App. If you’re a Dickens fan, you’ll want to pay the $8.99 for the full version to get all the little gems.
ONE TO STAY AWAY FROM: DICKENS’ DARK LONDON
This final App is labeled “Streetmuseum: Dickens’ Dark London” in the Apple Store. We’re warning you about it, because this App is far more likely to pop up in a search of the App Store than the new Kent Lyons’ App above. And, when you run across it—Dickens’ Dark London sounds a lot like the Dickens Newspapers idea. This App also is designed to show you around some of Dickens’ favorite haunts in the city. However, Dark London was mainly designed to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of London. It’s a complicated App that requires high-speed WiFi downloads to work properly. Even more disappointing: The initial Free App is actually just a framework, asking you to pay further fees for individual portions of the content. To be fair to the App’s creators—this mainly is intended for people traveling around London and planning to see the exhibition. So, if you are a heavy-duty Dickens’ fan, then you may want to monkey with this somewhat buggy App and its multiple parts. The graphics are remarkable and the subject matter is darker and that means it’s more—well, it’s actually more Dickensian—than the Kent Lyons’ App. But our advice for most readers and App users is: Steer clear of Dickens’ Dark London.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.