On the occasion of the death of Donald Hamilton (one of the greats in my opinion), I decided to re-read a couple of his novels. The two I chose were Murderers’ Row (1962), from the Matt Helm series, and Line of Fire (1955), a standalone. I enjoyed both of them immensely, and yet while I was reading them I had a feeling that some readers would say, “How can you like stuff like that? It’s so dated.” The answer is simple. I don’t have any problem putting myself into the era in which the books were published.

Easy for me to say, right? After all, I was around then, and in fact I read Murderers’ Row right around the time of its original publication. But that’s not it. I don’t have any trouble reading Jane Austen or William Shakespeare, either. In their way, they’re as much products of their times as anything else. Ah, but they have Universal Themes. Maybe. But you can’t really get much from them if you don’t know a little bit about the period in which they were written, and the more you know, the better.

But the language is stilted. It’s true that writers in different times used a style that might take a little getting used to. I don’t have a problem with that. I can read Poe and Hawthorne and Melville without a struggle. Or Hammett and Queen, for that matter. Others might not be able to adjust.

I know there are plenty of writers who avoid putting anything into their books that would tie them to a time period. They don’t mention songs or TV shows or Burger King. Not me. I put all that stuff in. I figure that if future readers are going to find the books dated, that’s not my problem. I just hope I’m lucky enough to have a reader in the future.

So what do you think? Read any “dated” books lately. Avoided putting a mention of Sanjaya into that novel you’re working on?

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I enjoy older books in pretty much the same way. I think most writers avoid the hip, trendy stuff for the most part.
I recently read Richard Stark's Lemons Never Lie and caught myself thinking at one point, "Jeez, why don't they just use their cell phones...." But that passes pretty quickly. What's really jarring is to read old sci-fi set in a "future year" that's already passed.
It is a little weird sometimes isn't it? Having to remember that if a book or a film took place twenty, forty, sixty years ago they couldn't email or shoot off a text like we can now. I've done the same thing myself.
I love those old SF novels set in the distant year of 1986. Somehow things didn't work out the way the writer thought.


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