Literary iPhone apps: bite-sized, pocket-sized and with Shakespeare to go

As someone who takes every opportunity to read, I’m usually distraught when I’ve forgotten to put a book in my bag in the morning. Not anymore. I got my iPhone a few months ago and have discovered plenty of cheap, quality reading material to peruse on lunch breaks, on public transport, and at home in bed.

My favourite literary app so far is the American journal Electric Literature. I bought Issue 1 ($5.99) because I love the work of Michael Cunningham—and there is an extract from his upcoming novel in the issue. The other authors I hadn’t yet heard of, but enjoyed their stories. They are T Cooper, Lydia Millet, Jim Shepard and Diana Wagman. Looking at my phone now, I discovered that along with an update for the app, Issue 2 has found its way onto my phone. Colson Whitehead—woo! And Stephen O’Connor to round it out. Issue 3 is also available.

American journal McSweeney’s also has an app, which updates itself with bonus material from the website and print journal. McSweeney’s content is highly entertaining. I recently read a conversation between author/artist/film director Miranda July and actor/aspiring writer James Franco. Available also is a short story by Wells Tower, an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, comics, and plenty of digestible nonfiction and humour titbits.

What’s it like reading on the iPhone? After a few pages I don’t notice the weeny screen. That said, I don’t think I’d read a whole novel… Short stories, which I love anyway, are perfect for reading on a device. The apps remember where you’re up to in the text, and you can make adjustments to the screen with text and colours, depending on the app, to make it easier to read.

As we reported in the Weekly Book Newsletter this week, Torpedo is the first Australian literary journal to have a Kindle edition. There is an Amazon Kindle app for the iPhone. I downloaded Issue 3, and have thus far enjoyed a couple of the stories (from Aus and overseas writers). You can buy and download any Kindle ebooks available to the Australian market through the Amazon store, directly to your phone.

While on Australian journals, Sleepers Publishing is developing an iPhone app for the next issue of the Sleepers Almanac, as well as the print issue. I’m looking forward to carrying that one around.

Another app like the Kindle, that doesn’t so much restrict where you buy the books from, is Stanza. Through Stanza you have access to books through ebookstores, publishers, and even Project Gutenberg (for free public domain works—though the formatting can be a little odd on these). My library contains Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens), Dubliners (James Joyce), Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka) and just about all of Kafka, poems by Keats and Emily Dickinson, and the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. With the longer works—they’re either books I’ve read (and love to revisit passages of) or they’re books I’d trial first on the device before buying a print copy.

I read a James Joyce story on the tram the other day: ‘Araby’. Have you read it? It’s available on the 100 Stories app. Also on this app are classic stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Dylan Thomas, Anton Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl, Herman Melville… I could go on.

And then there are the complete works of Shakespeare, with an app simply titled ‘Shakespeare’. Looking at it now I see I have recently been revisiting Hamlet, Act I, Scene II (side note: in the app, Hamlet is shortened to ‘Ham’—ha!). What better way to commit a soliloquy to memory, than by bookmarking it in your phone and reading it over and over again? O that this too too solid flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Have you discovered any I should know about?

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About Angela Meyer

Angela Meyer worked for Books+Publishing from April 2008, to March 2010, as editorial assistant then acting editor. Angela is now completing a Doctor of Creative Arts through the University of Western Sydney. She has had fiction, articles, reviews and interviews published and broadcast. She can be seen on panels at various writers' festivals, and she blogs regularly at

10 thoughts on “Literary iPhone apps: bite-sized, pocket-sized and with Shakespeare to go

  1. The Jim Sheppard story is incredible – about avalanche’s and what not. I honestly thought Jim was an avalanche researcher when I read it. It’s haunting. Surely one of the best journals I’ve seen.

  2. Indie press, Spinifex has been selling eBooks in the US market since 2007 – with multiple ISBNs we can now track which formats are selling and Kindle is among them.

  3. I love reading on the Ipod, it’s great to have books in your pocket

    Mark Twain is awesome (The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It,Life on the Mississippi)
    and some amazing stuff you’d find nowhere else (mostly Gutenberg)
    ..Diary of a nobody
    ..a book of essays by Gandhi
    ..long forgotten books by Jane Austen
    ..Across the plains in 1844 (wagon trains weren’t for the faint hearted)

  4. I’ve read many novels on the iPhone. I agree, it’s not ideal, but as you say, after a few pages you don’t notice that the writing is so small.
    The only real issue I have is reading in bed. The app I use automatically changes orientation when the phone is tilted, and I like to read with the phone in landscape mode. This leads to sore wrists when lying on my side trying to read.
    The app I use is called Air Sharing. I think I paid $8.99 which makes it the most expensive app I’ve bought, but it was well worth it. It’s basically a document viewer, and is well designed for that purpose (with the exception I mentioned earlier). I’ve just finished reading the six or seventh book of the Barsoom series (John Carter, Dejah Thoris) which are all available on Gutenberg. I’m also reading the Wizard of Oz series to my kids from the iPhone.

  5. So many books, so little time!

    I’ve got 4 apps and more than 50 books currently downloaded, all for zip, on my iPhone. I’m old with bad eyes but the small screen doesn’t bother me in the least. This marvelous device allows me to read for 9 hours on a plane, it’s back-lit so i don’t need a light, it weighs nothing so there’s no muscle strain when reading for long periods. It is my new-age library palm of my hand and I love it.

    I really don’t get the idea of a bigger kindle or i Pad to be honest, when my trusty iPhone already has it all and more.

    Incidentally, Americans should rediscover a great author Winston Churchill, (not the English PM), whose stories about settlement of the US and the politics and religion surrounding those events are beautifully written, albeit in an older style


  6. Brad – you’re right, that is an awesome story.

    db, Neil, James – it’s really great to hear about your experiences reading on the iPhone. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Just got an iPhone recently, and downloaded Stanza – I like the idea of the free books on there, and I also think it’s a good way of getting authors’ books out there that would normally struggle for bookshelf space. The only potential problem that I’ve come across is battery life, but if you can recharge easily, there shouldn’t be a problem with reading on a long flight or something.

  8. I am a TOTAL reading-on-iPhone convert – I read all our manuscripts in Stanza’s excellent app (so simple to convert them from PDFs and Word docs, then read them when travelling, in bed, in waiting rooms etc – and best of all, no printing and lugging huge piles of paper, yay!) and love the abililty to annotate and automatically find where you’re up to, it’s a lifesaver. I occasionally buy books in PDF or ePub to load to Stanza too, if they’re available. Have read everything from short stories to recipes to whole books/novels. I have even been know to cut and paste long articles from the Web and upload to Stanza, so I can read them later on…and Hayley, I’ve never had a problem with the battery, I find Stanza is really economical compared to some of my other apps.

  9. Tahnee – OMG I had no idea you could annotate on Stanza, this is brilliant! Now I can actually read ‘review books’ on there. Recipe books are a good idea…

  10. I got my iPhone last Friday and spent the weekend loading it up with apps. I started reading the first Stieg Larsson (via Kindle) and have so far been pleasantly surprised at what an easy reading experience the small screen offers. I doubt I’ll be sitting up in bed with it for hours, but it seems ideal for tram trips and the like. I also have Stanza and the Kobo app and I’ll experiment with them as well.

    One of my hobbies is collecting watches, and I’d heard that the iPhone app for Guido Modani’s ‘100 Years of Rolex’ book was particularly good. It costs US$19.99*, and was so big a file I had to download it via my desktop computer on iTunes and then sync it to the phone. The reason it is so big is that the app has hundreds (maybe thousands?) of photos and it turns a linear book into a live cross-referenced resource that contains descriptions, price guides and multiple photos for each model, and can be searched by year, model name, calibre (the code for the watch’s movement type) and a number of other categories. It is complex and very impressive, and again demonstrates that a e-reading can work for specialised reference and illustrated material as well as for plain text. (*the print book sells for over 300 Euros/A$450+ … oh, and a half-decent second-hand Rolex watch: start at $5000 and work your way up!)

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