I’ve long been a defender of books. Good, honest, inky, papery, analogue books, with words that don’t change colour even if you point at them. Kindles? Pah! They don’t smell of anything, and you can’t fold the corners over. And yet… and yet.
Earlier this year, I wrote a biography of the strange, funny, old, Canadian, Jewish, randy, short, hat-wearing singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. In August, it went to the printers. And now it’s back from the printers, and it’s in shops, in piles that make me go a bit swoony when I see them. The only problem is that between printing and publication, a number of things happened that by all rights ought to have been in the book:
- Beck unveiled his collaborative Record Club project, a reinterpretation of Cohen’s first album;
- Cohen himself collapsed on stage in Valencia;
- His performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival was released as a CD+DVD package;
- Sometime Mr Minnelli David Gest blessed concert-goers with his version of ‘Hallelujah’.
Now, if the biography had been available in an electronic form, I could have slotted all these nuggets in with minimal fuss, right up to the point of distribution. In fact, surely it would be quite feasible for purchasers to subscribe to some sort of infinite update, whereby any news stories pertaining to Mr Cohen could be seamlessly integrated, so that my book became a permanently evolving text, as constantly surprising as Leonard himself.
But isn’t there something to be said for a book (or a record, or a film, or whatever) existing as a definitive, discrete document? There it is: no extra nuggets; no previously unreleased tracks; no CGI Jabba the Hutt. It can be wrong; it can be misconceived; it can be out of date. But it still is. Deal with it. Otherwise you’ve just got Wikipedia.
That said, I’m still pissed off that I missed out David Gest.