As much as I am a fan of all things Apple, I am starting to think that all this mania about the iPhone and all the apps that are available for this, that, and (apparently) everything else is getting a bit ridiculous.

For example, I was reading the Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper this past Sunday (Jan. 10) and came across an article describing four new apps for the iPhone. The first two, “Greek Gods” and “Roman Gods” provide basic information about, you guessed it, the Greek and Roman gods. I can’t imagine why you would want this information at your finger tips (actually I can; I’m just geeky that way), but I became worried when the author said “For those of you who can’t keep straight whether Apollo is a Greek or Roman god (he’s Roman)…”

Hang on a minute! Apollo isn’t a Roman god, he’s both a Greek and a Roman god. In fact, he’s the only god whose Roman name is the same as his Greek name. Other Greek gods, like Zeus and Hera, had Latin names (in this case, Jupiter and Juno) that the Romans used to refer to them.

Okay, you’re saying, what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that I don’t need an app on my iPhone to keep track of this (apparently incorrectly).In fact, when it comes to keeping track of the Greek and Roman gods, there’s already an app for that.

It’s called a book.

When it comes to Greek and Roman mythology, my favorite app—sorry, I meant book—is probably Edith Hamilton’s Mythology,  which is both entertaining and informative, and also manages the neat trick of being scholarly without being too scholarly. And the best part is that I never have to wait for it to power up or worry about recharging the batteries. I merely open the cover and turn to page 29, where I can rean that Apollo

has been called “the most Greek of all the gods.” He is a beautiful figure in Greek poetry, the master musician who delights Olympus as he plays on his golden lyre; the lord of the silver bow, the Archer-god, far-shooting; the Healer, as well, who first taught men the healing art.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. The two iPhone apps mentioned cost 99¢ each; but it’s up to the user to ascertain how accurate they are (assuming said users want to, or assuming that they realize that just because something is on the internet doesnt mean it’s entirely accurate). On the other hand, a good new copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology might set you back as much as ten or twenty dollars, but considering the amount of study and scholarship that’s gone into it, that’s actually quite a bargain.

(And if you’re so inclined, you can spend some time sniffing around second-hand book stores and probably find a good copy for a dollar or two. As an added bonus, you can never be sure what other goodies you might find while you’re there.)

Besides that, books are physical objects, with an existence all their own. You can heft a large book and physically feel the effort that it to write it, and the effort it will take you to read it (although this physical sensation of weight will be deceptive in the case of poetry). Books, like pets or children, each seem to have their own unique smell. And, according to most toddlers and quite a few dogs, they’re also quite tasty.

And even beyond the sensual aspects of a book, there is also the question of design, which is a specialty in and of itself. The choice of typeface, type size, leading (how far apart the lines of text are), the use of drop caps—even where the page number is placed—all give a reader certain expectations about a book, before they even start reading it. I have seen beautifully designed books which contained stories that were, at best, trite, but I have also seen books with beautiful stories but for which design is an afterthough, or at best, relegated in favor of economic concerns. (Dover’s “Thrift Collection” is a good example of the latter.) And I have seen a lot of books in which the design was basic, solid, and nothing special—just like the story it contained.

Lest this entry turn into a paean to the printed book (which may very well be singing its swan song even as you read this), let me get back to my original point: books are the ultimate—and original—app that performs a number of functions and serves a variety of purposes, not all of which are necessarily literary. (Ten or twelve of those Harlequin Romances you inherited from Aunt Margaret will do a spiffy job of replacing that broken leg on the couch, for example.)

In the article in question, two other apps were mentioned. The first is the iPhone version of the game Battleship. Now here I could make many of the same arguments about games that I’ve made about books, but I’ll leave that to Jamie Lee Curtis, who probably wants to kick your butt just about now for saying “cool” when you found out that you can play Battleship on your iPhone. Just let me say that if you want to play a game with another human being, it’s probably best to sit across the table from another real person.

But the other app—Grocery iQ 2.0—now there’s an app with merit. When you use the last of something in your kitchen—the last squirt of ketchup, for example—just snap a picutre of its bar code and that item is automatically added to your shopping list. I really like this one, because even though I’m perfectly capable of writing a shopping list, I am completely incapable of including everything we’re out of. What’s worse, I never remember to actually bring the list to the store with me. And because I can’t just go to the store and come back with nothing, my brain clicks into survival mode and I end up coming home with frozen pizzas, ramen noodles, and bananas, which leads to all sorts of raised eyebrows when I get home. But since I never forget my phone, such experiences will be a thing of the past. Broccoli and other folate-rich foods, here I come!

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you’re an iPhone iApp iDesigner type of iPerson, congratulations. I hope that you will work ceaselessly on apps that will only benefit humanity, and if they involve GPS, so much the better (since I like maps but I don’t like asking for directions). If it involves preventing telemarketing calls (or preventing telemarketers, for that matter), I will be truly grateful.

But when it comes to something that books not only can do, but can do better, and have been doing better for hundreds of years (that little incident in Alexandria notwithstanding), then please leave it to the books. Don’t waste your time developing an app for it. Please.

Thank you.

And if you are an app developer, would you please consider developing a portable database that I can enter my entire book collection into? That way, when I’m in  a second-hand bookstore, I can instantly check and see whether I really need a second or third (or seventh or eighth) copy of any given title. Could you please do that? Maybe then I won’t end up with four copies of Catcher in the Rye again.

I’d appreciate it.

Oh, and Jamie Lee Curtis still wants to kick your butt.

Works Cited:

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little Brown, 1942.
Kinkade, Kris. “If there’s an app for that, tell us about it.” Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 January 2010: A10.
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