IN the short story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges, a man discovers that his encyclopaedia has an extra chapter.
A check of other copies of the encyclopaedia – even the same edition – confirms his is the only one with 921 pages. All of the others have 917. His extra chapter concerns the mystical country of Uqbar.
I quite like the concept: You buy a book and discover it is tailored just for you; that the copy of Tale of Two Cities I buy has a different ending to the one my wife buys. Or perhaps the London A-Z I buy has an extra street in it (hopefully one populated by second-hand bookshops).
It is not a new concept. Many newspapers have editions which target specific towns or areas, containing local stories the main ‘city’ edition will lack. In Northern Ireland, Protestant school children would have a different history book to those of Catholic children – giving their own religious bias on the country’s history. In the age of the internet with its cookies and spiders, it’s easy to see how this could be developed: Order the ebook A Visitors Guide To Cornwall and – the publisher noting from your surfing behaviour that you like real ale and photography – adapt the guide to include real ale pubs and locations for landscape photographs. Or order a biography of Terry Wogan and my copy might have his enthusiasm for chess detailed at length while the wife’s version barely mentions that and tells instead of his Eurovision days.
The Times pioneered this concept in the early days of the internet (1997) with a “Daily Me” where you could select the sections of the paper you particularly wanted to read. But how much more subtle it could be now. Today’s edition for me would have very little on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral but plenty on the relegation of Portsmouth FC. Innovators of such products have, however, tended to include a serendipity factor – adding a random article. And who knows, I might enjoy a feature on Norwegian dormice just as much as the wife.