The Other David Cohens (2021)

The other day I typed my name into Google Books, just for the mild thrill of seeing my own three titles appear. But the mild thrill quickly gave way to mild despair when I saw just how many other writers there are named David Cohen: dozens of the buggers. It’s difficult enough trying to stand out from all the writers not named David Cohen, without having to stand out from myself.  

But losing one’s personal identity can have its upside: I noticed that Google Books had mistakenly attributed my books to a far more accomplished David Cohen; namely, the UK author of Diana: Death of a GoddessThe Escape of Sigmund Freud, and other successful titles. Cohen is, among other things, a psychologist, film-maker, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. It’s people like him who give other David Cohens a bad name. Or should I say a good name. The substitution of his highly impressive bio for my pretty average one can only be a positive thing, as potential readers may well be more inclined to buy books by him than by me. 

Interestingly, Cohen was born in 1946, while I can say with some certainty that I was born in 1967 (as Mark Twain might have quipped, reports of my birth have been greatly exaggerated). This means that I have 21 years up my sleeve in which to narrow the gap between me and him, eventually bringing our respective biographies into alignment. It will, of course, entail my becoming a psychologist, film-maker, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, etc., but it will save Google Books the trouble of having to correct their error.* 

But David Cohen is not the only David Cohen to whom my books have been wrongly attributed. After the Google Books experiment, I looked up my name in the online catalogues of several Australian public libraries, many of which claim that my books have been authored by David Cohen (b.1955), award-winning journalist (The IndependentThe GuardianThe New York Times, etc.) and author of Chasing the Red, White, and Blue: A Journey through Tocqueville’s Footsteps through Contemporary America, and other books.  

That in itself makes for an enviable CV, but there’s more: Cohen studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, and was a Harkness Fellow at Columbia University. He currently lives in London with his wife and two daughters (how I envy authors who live in London with their wife and two daughters).  

Could there be a more comprehensive list of things I haven’t done? And yet, in an instant, I have done them all—including the London/wife/two daughters combination that has always so appealed to me. Had it not been for this cataloguing error (or was it the work of an anonymous Good Samaritan?) my books may well have languished on the shelves, only to be mercilessly culled in due course, instead of enjoying—if my Public Lending Right earnings are any indication—a fairly healthy borrowing history. 

In short, being mistaken for other David Cohens isn’t all bad, although there are times when it is—one of those times being the announcement of the winner of the biennial £40,000 David Cohen Prize for Literature (named in honour of its founder, Dr David Cohen, a British GP and cultural philanthropist who passed away in 2019 at the age of 89).  

This is where having the name David Cohen really works against me; even other, far more illustrious David Cohens are severely disadvantaged. Suppose I could somehow overcome the almost insurmountable obstacles to being eligible for this award—one must be a citizen of the UK or Republic of Ireland; one must demonstrate an outstanding lifetime’s achievement in literature; one cannot simply enter the prize but must be chosen for it by one’s peers—they will simply never award the David Cohen Prize to someone named David Cohen, for obvious reasons: if they did, everyone would be thinking to themselves: He didn’t win that prize on his merits. He only won it because he’s David Cohen! Even if they knew the facts, it would always be a tainted victory.  

The only way I’ll have a shot at winning the prize is if I write under a pseudonym. I’m not yet sure what that will be, but I’m leaning towards ‘Julian Barnes’. After all, the other Julian Barnes has already won it, and that can’t help but work in my favour. 

*Tragically, the error was corrected before I published this post

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