We live in interesting times: It remains to be seen what will happen in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and the other Middle Eastern and North African nations where citizens are demanding more responsive, democratic governments, but it is as good a time as any to reflect on the way current events and more broadly, history, are published. Publishing houses must weigh whether they can rush or “crash” a book out in order to capitalize on often-fickle public and media interest, or wait until there is some clarity about the facts on the ground. A book on Egypt that went to press on the night of Thursday, February 10, when Hosni Mubarak announced that he would not step down, would look very different than one that went to press nineteen hours later, when he tendered his resignation. Book publishing has, for obvious reasons, been ill-suited to record breaking news. Books are time consuming to write, and to tie a book too closely to volatile situations is to risk publishing a work that is outdated before it hits the shelves, or worse yet, one that’s just plain wrong, a latter day Dewey Defeats Truman. So we look to books for the long view—analysis, breadth and depth. Yet once written, both paper and e-books can actually be created quite quickly (interestingly, it can take just as long to get e-books into retailers’ systems as paper books). Publishers are always keen to capitalize on media attention, hoping to leap through—and ideally wedge open—the magical window that exists before Americans grow exhausted of a given subject. It’s not easy.
My question: have current events driven any of your book purchases?