This is a follow-up to my post on reading dated books. My question this time is, “Should a writer update his books for reprint?”

I’m asking because when I re-read Donald Hamilton’s LINE OF FIRE a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a reference to the Viet Nam conflict. That struck me because while I was reading a Gold Medal reprint from 1965 or so, the book had originally been published 10 years earlier. I checked out the Dell First Edition, and, sure enough, the reference there was to Korea. Someone, probably the Fawcett editor, had made the change.

One slightly controversial example was John D. MacDonald’s updating of his pulp stories for the collections titled THE GOOD OLD STUFF and MORE GOOD OLD STUFF. I don’t’ recall to many specifics, but I do remember that MacDonald was sure no one would remember Primo Carnera. Well, I do, but then I’m an old guy.

So did MacDonald do the right thing? If Hemingway were around should he fix up his short stories and present us with “The Gambler, the Nun, and the HD TV”? Or should writers leave well enough alone and let the stories stand or fall as they were when written, or should they update them for current readers?

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Interesting stuff, Jim. How on earth did Creasy find time to update while writing all those books? 500 or so, wasn't it?
What about Lee Childs's Tripwire? It's a contemporary novel as are the rest of his books. I didn't read it until last year. It didn't matter to me when it was published, because it read like a good modern-day thriller until I reached the part where the bad guy's HQ is located in the World Trade Center. Suddenly I was thrown from a contemporary book into a history book. Okay, maybe "thrown" is too strong, but I stopped reading to look at the pub date and approached the rest of the book with a different atitude. If the publisher brings out a reprint, should the building be changed? There is absolutely nothing about the building that requires it to be the WTC. It could be set in any large, New York skyscraper. We would still have a story set in New York in the early 21st century, but the reader would not be jarred out of the story. I'd probably change it.

BTW, i might be wrong, but didn't JDM originally write Travis McGee as Dallas McGee and was able to change his name because the Kennedy assassination happened before the first book was printed? What if you were JDM and the book was already published? Would you change the name in subsequent books and maybe in a reprint of the first book?
I definitely wouldn't have changed McGee's name if the first book had already been printed.

I don't think it would hurt Lee Child's book to change that location, but I also don't think I'd make the change. The book was set in a particular time, and that's where it belongs. Or that's my feeling. Lee Child might not feel the same way at all.
If the book's good enough to reprint, reprint it the way it was written.

Obviously grammatical and spelling mistakes that slipped through could be fixed, but other than that, let it rip.

There are dictionaries and encyclopedias and the internet now for those who don't get a reference, although a well-written book usually suggests a clue to the reference anyway. And an occasional footnote or intro to explain a particularly obscure reference or provide background probably won't hurt anyone.

But other than that, publishers -- and second-guessing authors -- should leave well enough alone. Trying to pander to the stupid and the slothful is a thankless and endless task.

There are plenty of new books for that.

Books reflect the time they were written -- they shouldn't be "updated" perpetually

As for changing TRIPWIRE?

No.

Everything is a bugaboo to someone, somewhere, and the Twin Towers are no different from the word "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn or any other outdated reference or phrase or slang and perjorative that makes someone, somewhere, feel uncomfortable. Get over it. Removing or altering words to reflect the flavour of the day is a slippery slope; one that I don't think is worth the risk.

It's bad enough we have politicians trying to rewrite history while it's still happening, without our art being under attack as well.

Why, the next thing you know, you'll have some self-righteous prude trying to put sweaters on nude statues or something...
It can't happen here, Kevin.
I believe the point about the WTC was that the book took place in a timeframe AFTER they no longer existed. If it were my book, given the opportunity to change that, I would definitely want to.

I should make it clear I'm not advocating totally updating a book to reflect recent developments. For example, I wouldn't, as an editor, encourage someone to update the technical elements of a book set in the 90s. As several people pointed out, that ruins the historical perspective.

But let's be honest--not every book written is a classic like Huckleberry Finn. Does it really do irreparable harm to update a book that's essentially meant to be entertainment so that it entertains without requiring the reader take a history class to get the references? There are plenty of genre novels that could be set in any time period--it's the characters and the story that matter not the atmosphere.

I don't care how many resources are at my fingertips. When I'm caught up in a story the last thing I want to do is stop to do a Google. Nor to I find it productive to refer to readers who would find themselves confused by references outside their sphere of knowledge as "stupid" or "slothful." It's hard enough getting people to read without insulting them.
True, but you can pick up a lot of stuff just from the context. You might not know exactly who Primo Carnera was, but you'd get the general idea.
I think it depends. I revised Accidents Waiting to Happen after it went out of print because it was my first work and it needed the makeover and it wasn't widely read first time around. Now it's been republished in mass pb, I'm happy to see it out there in its revised trim. Should it get published again in 20yrs, I wouldn't re-revise it. The storyline itself will most probably be dated by then.
More of a makeover than an updating, I'll bet, like Dave Zeltserman's FAST LANE.
True, I guess, Bill. I was lucky with timing in that the story was still current. But I think you're right. Once time, setting and place are set, updating it doesn't work.
Good grief - next thing you know they'll be colourising black and white movies for current consumption - but don't start me on that particular piece of bastardry --- VBEG incidentally.

I'm currently happily wallowing around in 1960's / 1970's Sweden with Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I, for one, would be mightily pissed off if these books had been "updated". For a start they stand up exceptionally well as they are so well written, and for a second, so what if there are references to stuff that may or may not still exist / happen / what was happening at the time etc etc etc - I can make the necessary brain shift if I need to, and it gives me a sense of historical perspective.

Okay, maybe between editions, in close timing with the initial release, a writer might want to dust off the curtains and tighten up some references, but knowing what the thinking was / issues were in past history is an important component of fiction (and why some of us keep books for years).
I never have trouble making that brain shift. I guess some people do, though.

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