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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Me, too. I think.
It would depend on the book, and on the reason for the reprint.

I recently acquired the second novel by a writer who won the Harper Prize in 1961 with his first. In discussing the marketing for the second, he noted he had done a revision on the first, asking if I thought I'd be interested in republishing it. His revision is more extensive than just an update of events--he's actually changed the ending.

To me, it sounds interesting. Might one reprint the first conjunction with the a kind of "before and after" that would give insight into how a young man in his 20s or 30s views life compared to how he views that same life forty years later? The idea intrigues me.

However, to address the actual question (sorry, I'm inclined to meandering), I think if the intent of the reprint is to offer a historical document it should be published in the original.

If, on the other hand, the goal is to introduce a new generation (or more than one) to the work of a talented writer, and as long as updating doesn't change the essential nature of the work, it doesn't hurt, IMNSHO, to make the references such that those generations will be able to understand them without having to resort to Wikipedia.

Let's face it--much of what makes genre fiction work is the fact it pulls the reader into the pages and, if done right, keeps them there until the last one is turned. Anything that interferes with that is going to spoil the reader experience. Coming on a reference one barely recognizes--or doesn't recognize at all--will interfere.

The other option is to add material that will give the reader enough information they can grasp the reference. For example, if a book from before WW II mentions the Maginot Line without explaining what it is, the author or editor might add "the defense line established by the French following the first war" or something of the sort.

Discuss. ;-)

Elizabeth Burton, Executive Editor
Zumaya Publications LLC
Opening doors to the creative mind
I agree that there's a difference between a complete revision and a simple updating done by changing a few cultural references.

I also think something's lost when the updating is done. Not in all cases, certainly not in the case of the Donald Hamilton novel I cited. In the case of the JDM stories, though, the tone was changed, and I'm not sure a new generation would appreciate the stories any more because of that.
I went through this when my first novel was reprinted, and it's not even that old. It had been written in the early nineties and there were some dated computer references and talk of certain New York neighborhoods that are now totally different. I thought about making changes but ultimately decided to leave it alone.

A book is an artifact of it's time. As I said in the last thread about dated books, I really enjoy reading books that act as time capsules and give the reader a peek into another era, be it 10, 50 or 100 years ago. Changing them to keep up with trends and pop culture is like trying to dress like a teenager when you're 75.

Besides, if you go down that road, where do you stop? Do you have to update every year? Every month? Every time something you referred to in your book changes? Should the title of Orwell's 1984 be changed? The only time I can see updating a book as being sort of a good idea is a situation like King's THE STAND. After all, it's hard to believe in the end of the world when it happened 20 years ago. But again, where do you stop? He did it once, but how long before he needs to do it again?

Ultimately, I vote no. I say leave em as is. Cause hey, I'm 37 and I know who Primo Carnera was.
You guys are saying it better than I could. I wish that JDM hadn't updated those stories, but he didn't ask my advice.
Ditto. References to the "now" of the book help put the story, characters and setting in a specific context. I really like that aspect of reading. And I love the idea of a book as "an artifact of its time." Well said.
Noooooooooooooooooooooo! And that's all I have to say on the matter.

Except, of course, I cannot leave well alone. As Christa says, a book is of its time. If I'm reading a book that was written in 1954 then I want to read a book that was written in 1954, complete with all its references, even if I don't know what they are. I have no clue who Primo Carnera was, but that's part of the fun of reading. You learn stuff. In fact, I just looked up Primo Carnera and have learned something today. I now know who was a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion in the 1930s. Since I have absolutely no idea who the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion TODAY, I am quite proud of my new little nugget of knowledge.

If you update something you end up with a different book. Update Jane Austen's Emma and you get Clueless.
CLUELESS wasn't bad.

I'm glad you learned about Primo Carnera, a pretty big guy. And do you know what? I don't know who the current heavyweight champ is, either.
As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" And a work of fiction that transports readers to the time when it was written "ain't broke." So short of fixing editoral omissions or revisions made without the author's knowledge, I really can't see any advantage to updating a work. I recall reading where Robert Heinlein considered updating some of his early short stories when it was discovered that the planet Venus was not the moist, tropical jungle he described. But he wisely decided against it. And when Ray Bradbury was given the opportunity to "update" his MARTIAN CHORNICLES, he only went so far as to post-date the years heading each chapter, so as to place it further in the future. Fortunately, he left the rest of his Mars setting just as it was first published.
I didn't know about Bradbury. I'll have to look at my edition and see what the original years were.
When William Morrow brought out the "Classic Edition" hardcover reprints of about 5 of Bradbury's books, back in 1997, Bradbury took the opportunity to change the years in the chapter headings. Thus, "Rocket Summer" in this edition and all since is dated 2030.
Thanks, Alan. Saves me the trouble of looking.


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