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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They should be left alone. A book can be like a snapshot, an image from the time. I think the only changes that should be made are major errors. Like the wrong spelling of a president or something.

Dean Koontz has rewritten and aded to earlier work for rerelase and it just makes me nuts. I like to see the changes in the writing of an auhtor and his updating them doesn't allow that.

I actually really enjoy reading older books because of the things going on in them. Old spy stuff from Westlake during the early sixties with the cold war and beatnics is tons of fun.
Now that's a great example, Jon. I hadn't thought of Koontz. It would be interesting to compare one of his rewritten books with the original, something like PRISON OF ICE. (He did rewrite that one, didn't he?) I'm too lazy to do it, of course.

I agree with you about those Westlake books, I guess. I read them when they were first published and thought they were fun at the time.
Yeah, that was even before them there hippies.
If he novel is set "today," even though it was written decades ago, then little tweaks are good. References to "bag phones" are disconcerting when you think you're reading a story set in 2007. Change 'em to cell phones, already, especially if that's the only reference to the time period.

If it's clearly set in the '80s, and was meant to be set in the '80s rather than meant to be "today" in the '80s, then I'm all for the tweaking.

I'm not convinced on a whole update, though.
One of my weird quirks is that I always look at the copyright info for a book I'm reading, so I usually know the setting before I begin. Makes those "bag phone" references easier to process.
I'm wondering why something like that is even considered. Would you change what we would deem as inappropriate racial slurs? Naw, it was written when it was written. And if new words fall on a page and no one hears them, do they make a sound? In other words, if you don't notice the change is that good or bad? I say let it stand.


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