The John Lennon Letters Review
The Beatles star’s life in his own words on iPad
“It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few/I’ll be writing more in a week or two/I can make it longer if you like the style.” Thus go the lyrics of The Beatles song Paperback Writer, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1966, about a tabloid journalist who dreams of being a successful novelist. Taken on their own, these lyrics could just as easily describe The John Lennon Letters. While there may not be a thousand of them, and sadly the man won’t be writing any more, the app does include 78 letters, postcards, notes, missives and illustrations from every era of his life. An innovative interface allows you to enjoy the eclectic collection.
The letters and memorandums of the Imagine singer were gathered together by long-time Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. With a blessing from Yoko Ono in 2010, Davies began a herculean task, collecting copies of letters from friends and family of the star, as well as appealing for them on the internet and contacting private collectors. Finally, he has arranged and annotated the complete work as a narrative of Lennon’s life.
At least, this is how the print version of The John Lennon Letters works. The iOS version, which features 78 letters – ten more than the hardback version – is much more flexible, and the collection can be arranged in several different ways. If you want a straightforward timeline of The Fab Four’s rise to fame and the eggman’s solo career, this is available, but it is also possible to view the letters by Recipients or Theme, or view them all together in a mosaic (for a more in-depth look at these options see the boxout on the opposite page.)
No matter how you view the collection, double-tapping on a letter enlarges it so you can view it up close. Lennon’s handwriting varies in quality, and some of it is quite illegible, but by clicking the ‘i’ button at the bottom of the screen you will be given a transcript of what each letter says and a commentary from Davies to put it in context. Alternatively, tapping on the highlighter button reveals additional annotations explaining names and addresses mentioned in the letters. Tapping the speaker icon will also provide an audio reading from actor Christopher Eccleston. No documenting of Lennon’s life would be complete without music, and tapping the musical note in the bottom right of each letter plays a sample of The Beatles or Lennon’s solo work, with a link to iTunes should you want to buy it.
While the app’s interface is very clever, it misses one trick. The app is only optimised for landscape mode – ideal for viewing some of the postcards and illustrations, but seems ill thought out as the majority of the letters are written from top to bottom, which lends itself to portrait mode. Instead a lot of scrolling down the page is needed, especially when some of the in-depth correspondences are two pages long.
While this is a great app for any John Lennon fans, users should be aware that there are few Beatle-on-Beatle conversations, and what is there mostly consist of postcards to Ringo Starr during the Yoko Years, for the obvious reason that when the band were touring the world they were all together. Equally, while the letters’ commentaries provide context for each one, it is a shame we only get to hear one half of the conversation and don’t get to read any of the responses.
A fascinating account of the Beatle in his own words, with interactive features.
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