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With republication, there are updating risks and rewards

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I was reading the Jennifer Greene books which are being re-released through Carina Press and I was struck by the small ways in which the book details were being updated. One character refers to text messaging another character. Another character was watching CSI and the kids were listening to Lady Gaga.   These Greene books were originally published in the 80s when CSI, Lady Gaga, and text messaging were in someone’s deep subspace, not having come to fruition yet.     I actually thought these were nice touches and that Greene was making good use of opportunities afforded through a republication.

But then I remembered the Harlequin release of its vintage romances and how these were changed to make them more palatable for modern sensibilities.

Now for the books: Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior-’such as hitting a woman-’that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership. Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years. But that did entail a text edit, which we had not anticipated. AND, we had to clear those adjustments with the current copyright holders, if we had been able to locate them

David Rachels did a line by line examination between the original publication and the republished and sanitized version.   Many referred to Harlequin’s editing as Bowdlerization named after Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century editor who deleted sexual content in Shakespeare so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of Victorian women and children.

I thought about Charlotte Lamb’s books, some of which contain some very egregious rape scenes between the characters. While I’m not a fan of rape in romance, I think that to rewrite these books as if this wasn’t a frequently used trope in the genre’s history does the readers a disservice. Lamb’s books are a fascinating read from a historical perspective. I felt that she really struggled with the changing landscape of women’s rights and how that was impacting the interpersonal relationships between men and women. Deleting or rewriting books like Dark Dominion would take away some of that history; distort the picture of the author.   Charlotte Lamb’s daughter writes:

Someone once left a comment on this blog criticising some of Charlotte Lamb’s early books as sadistic and unpleasant. I thought at the time that this critique was unfair. I am no longer quite so sure. However, that is not to say that I disapprove of these darker Lamb stories, or feel they ought not to have been written. They were immensely popular at the time of publication, and still make dynamic reading. Which suggests that they answered some kind of need in the mind of the reader, just as James’ fierce lovemaking above answers a similar, unspoken need in Caroline.

The challenge of republication came to prominence in literary fiction publishing with the news that New South would be republishing Huckleberry Finn but deleting certain words like “nigger.”

In the new version, all instances of the N-word — which appears more than 200 times in the original text — have been expunged. In its place, the book employs the term “slave.” (“Injun,” a derogatory term for Native Americans, will be replaced by “Indian.”)

For some reason I read The Swiss Family Robinson to my daughter.   I had forgotten a) how poorly written this dreck was (mounds and mounds of exposition) and b) how horribly colonistic is was and c) how racist it was. I found myself deleting words and replacing words as I read to my child.

Updating is a particularly thorny issue.   As the Politics Daily writer stated,

In short, the N-word isn’t just a piece of regional jargon that marks a particular moment in our nation’s history. It’s a hateful word. It’s poisonous. And it’s pervasive. Does all this mean that in the future, children should only consume the kindler, gentler Huck Finn 2.0 that Gribben and Co. are peddling? I’m not sure. But this issue certainly isn’t as black and white, so to speak, as some critics are making it out to be.

I emailed Jennifer Greene for her take on the updating situation as she has updated her books.   Her response was great and I asked (and received) permission to repost the response in its entirety.

I just finished working on all 5 of my “Jeanne Grant” Berkley books from the ’80′s for Carina Press.

I loved how they handled the updating–the editor made a comment where h/she thought an area needed updating…made a suggestion on how to work with it…and then left the change up to me.

In one story (Sweets to the Sweet), the heroine had a baby.   The editor didn’t ask for changes, yet I noticed where the baby issues had changed–babies were ‘supposed to’ sleep on their tummies back then.   “Playpen” has become an antiquated word; car seats are now only located in the back seat, etc.

That particular area of changes was a reminder to me that a good book always takes two–the writer and the editor.

Those editing experiences made me more aware of what I’m writing now.   In past books, I often named a brand of car, a color scheme, a clothing style.   I always thought it helped the reader ‘see’ the characters and setting if I used specifics.   To a point, I still believe that….but from editing those books in the ’80′s, I also realized that naming a car like a “Pinto” is all but guaranteed to date a book.

Even colors need handling with care.   The old ‘avocado’ green of the ’70′s likely still exists–but it may be called ‘olive’ green in more current times. Perhaps ‘bean green’ is an even safer description, because there’s no branding or temporary reference.

In the recent Huckleberry Finn controversy–speaking only for myself–I was totally against changing Mark Twain’s text. That specific book, if used in a classroom, should and could be used to examine the cultural and social beliefs of the times.   Removing the word doesn’t teach the young reader anything.   Part of why Twain is (and always will be) so wonderful, is that the messages he portrayed to the reader are still thought-provoking today.

Our language–our ‘book language’–has the intrinsic goal of reaching the reader.   Terms that interfere with that readability should get a second look.   Writers as well as editors should both be looking for that nature of problem–not to muddle with the author’s style or voice, not to arbitrarily change an author’s choice–but for both sides of the team to seek the same goal:   clear, clean readability.

Jennifer Greene

What do you all think?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

45 Comments

  1. Milena
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 04:55:23

    I would say that it depends. If it’s the author herself making the changes, that’s one thing; if it’s an editor, particularly doing it years after the author’s death, that’s completely different. I find the very idea of changing the past distasteful, much more than any single word. Of course nobody would use Twain’s words today, but throwing them out because they might be offensive to contemporary audiences is not only destroying the text, but also painting the wrong picture of history, bringing to mind the idea that we have “always been at war with Eurasia”.

    Furthermore, it robs the young readers of the chance to become aware of the changes in time, to become aware of the fact that we all live in a flux, and we all live within history. What has come before us is important because it shaped who and what we are today. Losing that sense, or never developing it in the first place, is, to me at least, a terrible thing, because it leaves people drifting and lacking a sense of perspective.

    OTOH, if an author wants to revamp her text for a more contemporary audience, that’s her right: as the author, she knows what’s important for her text, and what’s just background that can be sacrificed with no trouble.

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  3. KB/KT Grant
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 06:27:08

    I’ve read a few Greene books from Carina and even with some of the edits, I still feel they’re dated. In one book the hero is in the car and puts on the “tape player”, which I guess was missed during editing.

    That’s bound to happen with contemporary categories. I have all the old school Sandra Brown and Linda Howard’s that take places in the early to mid 80′s and still love to re-read them even if they have mention of 80′s technology.

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  4. Maria Zannini
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:11:48

    I agree with Milena. If the author wants to update or freshen her work, that’s up to her.

    But I am very much opposed to sanitizing and homogenizing works to fit the cultural criteria of the day.

    I’m an older Hispanic. Whatever disadvantages or racial slurs I endured helped to mold me into what I am today. I’d like to think it made me more aware of diversity and more compassionate.

    Authors, how would you feel if a hundred years from now someone decided your work needed to be edited for content because it was found offensive and no longer fit the world view?

    Never mind that your message was uplifting or important. You said it wrong and someone else wants to fix it for you.

    I can’t help but make the comparison to Huxley’s Brave New World.

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  5. Joanne
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:18:08

    On a re-issue I’d much prefer to see a Forward by the author or publisher explaining the era and what constituted the accepted norms of the times rather than changes to the text.

    In books that are primarily ‘children’s stories’ it seems wiser to leave the reading of them until the child has an understanding of what ass hats people can be and how humans have (hopefully) changed over the generations.

    If you don't know your history, you're destined to repeat it. I believe that even though I flinch when re-reading some classics or Favorites like Agatha Christie or older romance genre authors.

    Editing out those words and actions that made up common behavior negates any social or moral growth that we’ve had.

    The books and words are what they are. Our human history is what it is and I believe that we can not and should not re-write it.

    With romance books the changing of avocado to olive makes not a bit of difference but removing a forced sex scene denies the changes of attitude that have been brought about by blood, sweat and a great deal of lingerie burning. YMMV

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  6. MicheleKS
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:26:30

    I like reading older books of all types because it’s a window into the past. I see it as an opportunity to see how people thought and felt, and yes it wasn’t always politically correct. If an author wants to update their work that’s up to them but once the author has passed away I don’t think their work should be touched.

    I remember years back when Mary Jo Putney updated her book ‘The Rake and the Reformer’ by expanding it a little and making some minor corrections. I read both versions but I felt the newer version was better because the changes were very well done and read seamlessly.

    As for the ‘Huckleberry Finn’ rewrite all I could think was that Mark Twain was probably pitching a s**t fit in his grave. Mr. Twain had very strong feelings about censorship and I know that he would not have approved of the sanatizing of his work. I also think that taking this book out of classrooms had robbed so many students of a book that can teach so much. With an old book like ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or any other book, including old-school romance, you have to read it in the context of the time it was written in.

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  7. Eileen
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:26:48

    I would prefer to read the original version of books over updated versions. I have that Charlotte Lamb book, Dark Dominion, along with many other 1970s Harlequins. My grandmother (of all people) gave them to me when I was a teenager. Certainly, the heros are not written very “hero-like” by today’s standards, but I expect that when I pick up an old romance.

    I like the outdated references to clothes, cars, music, etc. because they are fun. I get a laugh when characters say “mod cons” and they mean an 8 track player.

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  8. valor
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:28:48

    I think that if Jennifer Greene saw a chance to make her books more relevant, (love her, btw) then the edits were worth it, but I would hate to think that any author’s work was changed without their permission and participation, or worse, posthumously. In many ways, an author’s words are their memorials, and I find it distasteful to change them.
    As for Huck Finn, I am really against that change. It’s as much about the words they chose to replace the n-word and “injun” as it is that they are changing it. If you can’t tell the difference between considering a slave less than human and considering *every black person ever* distasteful and less than human, congratulations, you have missed the point. It would be one thing if no one used the n-word anymore, and children couldn’t be expected to understand what it means (wouldn’t that be nice); I can’t tell you how many times I sat in class and explained that “wop” was insulting to Italians, or that one native character calling another “apple” was a slur. That isn’t the case with the n-word. Everyone knows what it means, and that means it should stay in the book.
    Also, since the context of “injun” is usually insulting, changing it to Indian implies that actually being an Indian is bad, rather than the bigoted character being a bigot.
    Sorry, I know that was long.

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  9. tricia
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:36:00

    I like Joanne’s notion of a forward.

    There’s a slightly different expectation on the reader’s part when s/he picks up a battered old copy that’s clearly from a time past versus a new copy with a current printing date in the front matter. Some people are just not that sophisticated, and the first few times they come across offensive words it might take them a minute. But when it comes to the Mark Twain issue, I can’t imagine a teacher who would fling Finn at a class full of kids and not warn them to note the language and just be grateful that it’s not right for us to talk that way anymore. And so if I were picking up one of these books from my grandmother’s keeper shelf, one with a creased but cared-for cover, I would not be all that surprised to find rape scenes and other anachronisms. But if I picked the book up in a store today with a shiny cover and it didn’t say REISSUE all over it, my reaction might be different.

    Also: Valor said “Also, since the context of “injun” is usually insulting, changing it to Indian implies that actually being an Indian is bad, rather than the bigoted character being a bigot.” YES. A hundred times YES.

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  10. LVLMLeah
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 07:57:45

    I agree with those who think that if an author her/himself wants to make changes, that’s their right.

    However, for me, I love references to the time period a book was written in. It gives a certain flavor to a book that adds to it.

    I also think it depends on the time period, for me anyway since I’m older. 70′s-80′s feels “dated” as opposed to “retro,” which feels more like 50′s-70′s. And period starts 40′s and backwards. Or it’s like that to me.

    Dated doesn’t appeal to me as much as retro or period. I love reading books written during the 20′s- 50′s. I love the cultural references, clothing descriptions and the language used. I makes the book that much richer.

    As for sanitizing a book, no. Just no. Better everyone feels just a bit uncomfortable and look at why it brings up discomfort than to rid the reason for it to begin with.

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  11. Jane
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 08:36:27

    @MicheleKS I wanted to mention, but forgot, the rewriting of Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught. In the updated version, the rape scene is excised I believe, which is a total travesty. Not because the rape scene was OMIGOD awesome but because it is a cornerstone book of the romance genre for some time and the deletion of a scene that was so much a part of our consciousness and the subject of great debate does the genre a disservice.

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  12. RTam
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 08:43:21

    I mostly agree with the consensus – authors have the right to update their work, but works by deceased authors should be untouched, since it’s a window to how people in the past thought.

    However, I feel there’s context missing when it comes the Mark Twain rewrites – the n-word is being taken out because many schools use it as an excuse not to teach Huckleberry Fynn. Isn’t it better that children get to know the bowlderized version of Mar Twain (which only takes out one word, while leaving the content and messages intact) than not at all? They can still revisit the original outside of school or in their adult years.

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  13. Debra
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:01:47

    We can’t hide what was in the past and I feel that is what they want to do in changing the words in Mr. Twain’s book. Those words were out there and were used, and we are all smart enough to know hat they are not used now. I feel you can tell your children that the words are no longer used and why. I don’t think we should have others doing that for us.
    I hate to see changes in books. Write a forward to say that this book was written in a certain time and how over the years feelings have changed. I think it takes something out of the book when you change it. I love reading the older romance books. They never bothered me, I knew it was only a story. It is like picking up a older Diana Palmer book and all the heros were smoking, I know that it is not good for you, but that was the times and you can’t go and rewrite that becasue it did happen.

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  14. Carin
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:14:37

    I think I’d rather have no updates. I’m good with a forward from the author addressing concerns, but I don’t know that I want or need the updating in the text.

    The only updated book I’m aware of reading is the latest Jennifer Crusie. When I realized the dog was an add in to match the cover… eh, disappointing. Not that I was attached to the dog, it just felt dumb to have any part in pandering to people who want to buy books with pets on the cover.

    I think I want the story to stand as is. And if after 10 or 20 years it reads like a historical, I’m good with that. I don’t want to read a story that you could cut and paste in references. I want that information to be part of the story. I don’t like the idea that any of the original story is substitutable. It makes it seem more of a mad lib.

    All that said, I probably have read more updated re-issues than the one I’m aware of. And I’m not against an author making money by reissuing their books or readers experiencing a good book that has gone out of print… I just wish the originals could stand.

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  15. Rosario
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:16:23

    I do agree that authors have the right to update their own work, but in cases such as the Jennifer Greene books referenced above, I’d much, much rather read the original, and would actually be quite reluctant to read a version with the cosmetic updates as required. I can look at the copyright page and check when it was written and understand why the heroine doesn’t just whip out a mobile phone and call the police, thank you very much.

    What dates a book for me aren’t the references to a particular brand of car or the use of a particular word, it’s the attitudes**, and if your characters were people of their time, you won’t fix that without an extensive rewrite. So if you just make them listen to Lady Gaga and send texts, you won’t get 2011 characters, you’ll get 1980s characters who’ve time-travelled to 2011, and I’ve absolutely no interest in reading that.

    **Which is why historicals can read just as dated as category romance written in the 1970s.

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  16. Brian
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:32:11

    If the author want’s to edit/revise that’s their right, but I think on a whole I’d rather see stuff left alone or why not publish both versions in the same volume (at least for the ebook). Of course I’m one of the folks that wish Lucas had left the original Star Wars movies alone instead of tinkering with them.

    What I don’t like is how Carina just says “Previously published” which doesn’t really tell anyone that the books have been re-edited and “updated”. They could at least say “This book has been revised from a previously published edition.” like for example Samhain did when they republished Lynne Connolly’s ‘Yorkshire’.

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  17. Brian
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:34:16

    I would also add that when I see something like “This book has been revised from a previously published edition.” while I might like the book (loved Yorkshire BTW) there’s always a niggling in my mind wondering what was changed? Would I have liked the original even more?

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  18. Joy
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:19:14

    I’ve read a few of the updated Jennifer Greene books being reissued by Carina. While I appreciate the effort the author made to update them, I have no problem with a book originally written in the 1980s being “set” in the 1980s. The reason is that while you can update some things–like have the heroine check email or use disposable diapers–there are still all those descriptions of clothing, the way people talk, and the way the technology interacts with the plot (for example, in today’s contemporaries I would expect there to be a reason why a character doesn’t have/can’t use their cell phone, if they can’t be reached for some plot point, etc.). So the updated references to technology have to be more casual-mention (e.g. a person checks their email rather than calling into their receptionist for messages) to avoid things like completely re-writing the book…and if it’s going to be a complete rewrite I think I’d rather have a new one! What happens is that you end up reading a book that sounds kind of 1980s except for a few things. Luckily I’ve liked the reissued Greene books so much that particular issue hasn’t bothered me much.

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  19. hapax
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:38:04

    I recently dug out a story I wrote in the ‘eighties, wondering if I could update it to current times.

    It would have taken a LOT of work to fix the references to telephones, typewriters, television shows only at fixed times, current songs, etc. — but it could have been done.

    But what could not have been “fixed” were most of the plot drivers — the way people did research, how they viewed the media and the government, the consciousness of being citizens of their local region rather than their nation — they were simply alien to the twenty-first century.

    It was interesting to me to see how an entire way of looking at the world has been lost within my own lifetime. And how some stories possibly can no longer be told — at least, not as current and relevant, instead of quaintly historical.

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  20. Isobel Carr
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:42:38

    I’m more inclined to think that books should be left in their original form (they’re like time capsules), but if the AUTHOR wants to update and make changes, well it’s their book. And it’s not like this is new. I mean, how many published versions are there of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass? I read the first one (a skinny little thing) in college. My best friend was reading the last one in his class, which was like ten times longer.

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  21. Joy
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:55:27

    Imagine, just imagine, trying to excise the country of East Germany from your 1985-set novel…

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  22. Dana S
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:59:27

    I prefer reading the original. For one thing, just updating a few tech/slang stuff does not make the book a contemporary, it just makes it seem like the book is trying to hard to be cool. A book can be a reflection of the times it was written in, and removing certain “dated” scenes ruins the book for me.

    As for the Twain controversy, I’m just going to quote Jon Stewart/Larry Wilmore from the Daily Show segment:

    Wilmore on the N-word being uncomfortable:

    WILMORE: And it should be! Look, Mark Twain put that word in for a reason. The n-word speaks to a society that casually dehumanized black people; “slave” is just a job description. And, it’s not even accurate! In the book, Jim is no longer a slave. He ran away! Twain’s point is he can’t run away from being a nigger.

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  23. Chelsea
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 11:02:58

    Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts was probably one of the first romance novels I ever read. It takes place in New Orleans and was published in 2001, prior to Katrina. When it was made into a Lifetime movie in 2009 they updated it to include mention of the disaster and recovery, and even subtly included some of the social/political issues that came out of it. I believe they were right to make these changes, but it definately altered the story for me. By changing the context of the setting, you inevitably alter the tone.

    I’d prefer books to be left alone. I have read romance novels from as far back as the mid 70s and I liked them. If you go in expecting to find outdated elements, it isn’t at all bothersome and to me is part of the fun.

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  24. Janine
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 11:29:50

    @Jane: There’s an interesting 1999 interview with McNaught on AAR in which she discusses her decision to revise Whitney, My Love. Her comments on that are about two thirds of the way down the page.

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  25. Liz
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 11:39:19

    @Milena:

    I completely agree with you. If an author wants to update his/her work and the update doesn’t harm the story, then that’s fine. However, editing a piece of literature for the sole sake of not offending modern sensibilities is absolutely wrong. Unfortunately, I am not all that surprised that New South has decided to republish without the offensive words because editing history seems to be the new trend in this country. Texas has passed a curriculum allowing them to delete figures and promotes it Christocentric ideals. Tennessee Tea Partiers want to change the way history is taught in schools so that it focuses less on the “minority experience.” My question is how they plan on teaching any history if they want to eliminate the minority experience. It seems that even the story of the Pilgrims leaving England for the New World reeks of the “minority experience.” What exactly does that leave? The Salem Witch Trials are definitely out for who is a bigger minority than a group of so-called witches? Even the Revolutionary War could be considered a “minority experience” since only a small cadre of men were responsible.

    Things like this scare me because they symbolize a totalitarian-like culture shift. If people like the Tea Party in Tennessee and the Republican school board nuts in Texas are allowed to get away with garbage like this nobody is going to know what really happened in the past.

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  26. Sunita
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 11:45:42

    I’m heartened to see that I’m in the majority on this one. I really don’t understand *why* an author or editor would want to change references, attitudes, etc. When we open a book, we enter a world, and that world is the sum of many parts. I don’t see how you can change some and really have it work.

    But I know that there are readers who make fun of dated references, so I can see how authors and editors get worried.

    This really struck me in the link to the Rachels blog you provided:

    When Library of America published their volumes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, they would no more have tinkered with the grammar and spelling in The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon than they would have changed the names of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Canonical writers, however, get respect that lesser writers like John Hadley Chase rarely receive …

    Of course, I read 19thC British and American literature for pleasure, and part of my pleasure is entering that world.

    I think we owe it to the past to respect it and understand it. Not necessarily respect the things that people did, but respect the way the world looked then, and try and make sense of why. For example, in Rachels’ excerpts, the violence stands out. But the way that we have thought about violence both in the past and today is important for us in understanding human behavior and motivations. We are still a violent society and world, but violence has changed in how it is explained, codified, and practiced. If we just delete those bits, we lose a chance to make sense of both that world and the one we live in today.

    For years I didn’t read Charlotte Lamb because I hated the Alpha heroes and the violence. But when I went back and read a slew of them recently, I was really struck by how interesting they were. It felt to me as if she was pushing the boundaries of what constituted romantic, and how uncomfortable and difficult passionate love can be. I’m glad I read them because I felt as if I learned something, both about romance novels and what authors can do within a given form.

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  27. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 12:05:13

    @Sunita:

    But I know that there are readers who make fun of dated references, so I can see how authors and editors get worried.

    Eh, I make fun of leg warmers, too, but I wore them and during the winter in my office, I sure wish I could find a pair!

    I’m still not sure what crime the fanny pack committed, though…

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  28. Sunita
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 12:54:52

    @Moriah Jovan: Don’t you love the way everything comes back? Those who laughed at leg warmers are wearing them now.

    Fanny packs are irremediably unfashionable, in inverse proportion to their usefulness. I like the (brit?) term, though – belly bag.

    I just remember the AAR boards going on and on about the word “slacks” in Nora’s novels. I had no idea it was such an inappropriate word.

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  29. Isabel C.
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 13:07:21

    I don’t have terribly strong feelings either way, but I agree with hapax and Rosario that the datedness goes deeper than the references to bands and food. I first read The Stand in its updated-for-the-1990s edition; the characters’ attitudes and some of the culture still seemed weird in a way that made a lot more sense when I found out that the original had been set in 1980.

    I would like forwards to books that have disturbing content, honestly, both as a warning–rape or abuse a la some of the older romances can be really bad to read if you’re not expecting that kind of thing*–and as a way to know that the author him or herself has moved on from those attitudes. There are people I’d feel a lot better about supporting if they’d gone on record somewhere saying that they realize certain creepy attitudes about race/gender/sexuality came across in their earlier books and that they still believe those books are good works of storytelling but regret how certain bits ended up. (See again King, who’s at least supposed to have acknowledged his iffy treatment of minorities somewhere.)

    But extracting the content itself…meh, no thanks.

    *Which is even more of a problem when the older books get reprinted with contemporary-looking covers. I expect to find “forced seduction” in something with an old-school clinch pose and mullets for everyone; I’m prepared. Not so much if the novel looks like it came out last month.

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  30. Isobel Carr
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 13:47:56

    @Dana S: I totally <3 Larry Wilmore. I thought his summation was perfect.

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  31. library addict
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 13:50:51

    I really wish Jennifer Greene and the Carina team had left the books as is and NOT made any changes/updates to them. As we discussed in the other thread, updating the music references, technology (albumn to CD or MP3), and other seemingly “little things” actually make the books appear more dated IMO. It seems silly to have a character referring to a current tv show or song, mention programming the DVR rather than the VHS player, or some such and then NOT have the character carrying a cell phone which would have solved so many of the plot points in many of the 80s romances.

    I have all of her original books written for the Jove Second Chance at Love line and was looking forward to rereading them in e. Now I think I would much rather pull out the old paperbacks and read them as they were originally published.

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  32. Isobel Carr
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 13:55:04

    @Moriah Jovan: Check out Etsy. My BIL got my sister an amazing pair of legwarmers there for Christmas (black wool with buttons and a fold-over flap.

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  33. Ridley
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 15:16:35

    I recently read Lavyrle Spencer’s 1981 novel “Spring Fancy” and found all the dated elements charming. Watching the characters play racketball in short shorts, tall socks and sweat bands was a big part of the joy I got from reading the book. It was like going through a box of pictures you found in an attic.

    Contemporary stories tell a contemporary tale. To remove all the dated nods to the zeitgeist of the time is to gut the story of its timely relevance. Time periods are more than a set of fashions and technologies. They’re a point on a cultural timeline. Spring Fancy is more than a tale of love in bad fashion, it’s about the changing place of women in society, changing sexual mores, excitement with new technology and so on. It’s as much a story of the early 80s as it is a story of a romance. Removing period details would make the book anachronistic.

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  34. Keishon
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 18:32:22

    Well, I have no problem enjoying a romance written during the 1980′s or 90′s. I am disappointed that the Jennifer Greene titles are being re-edited. I think it takes away something. Thankfully, I have all of her original titles and plan to stick to those.

    As an aside, Iris Johansen did a similar thing with her Wind Dancer series. I loved Reap the Wind and she changed a lot in that book to suit her suspense readers. I really hated that so I am no fan to this practice at all.

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  35. GrowlyCub
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 21:10:12

    @MicheleKS:

    Conversely, I thought the changes in The Rake were gratuitous (why tie it in with the Fallen Angels, absolutely no need to do that) and I much prefer the original version.

    I’m opposed to rewrites in general, even if they are author initiated. As others have said, half the fun of reading an older book is to either remember if you were around back then or go all ‘huh’ because the mind-set is so different.

    Updating dilutes that and if some things are changed and not others, it makes it obvious that the text has been messed with.

    As an aside, we have 4 vehicles and 2 of them have tape players. :)

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  36. Lisa Hendrix
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 00:08:06

    A lot of people out there are misquoting Twain right now, claiming he said he never intended for kids to read Huck Finn. When you see the full letter, in context, you see that he meant just the opposite. He fully intended the book, and its rough language, be accessible to children, knowing they, of all people, would understand the deeper meaning. He would, no doubt, slice and dice the editor and publisher of this new expurgated version with his finely honed sarcasm.

    There’s a NYT article from 1935 that shows the full exchange at:

    http://www.twainquotes.com/19351102.html

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  37. Sally
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 03:11:32

    I agree that when an author wants to update his or her book, (s)he has the right to, but when I know a book has been updated, I’d ditch it and go find the original version instead. But that’s just my preference.

    Like Brian said, when I know a book has some changes, I’d be wondering what they are instead of enjoying the book. I also agree that changing small details won’t change the fact that the writing can still read as dated. If that is the case, the author might as well try to rewrite the whole thing.

    I have hundreds of old Harlequins, and part of the charm in reading them is that they are dated. Of course, I read them as historicals, but it’s fun to laugh at their outrageous clothing description and think about the changes then and now.

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  38. Selene
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 06:04:56

    I am against changing novels in newer versions, from either author or editor. I want novels to reflect the time they were written, with fashion, technology, controversies and all.

    For instance, I bought “Whitney My Love” by Judith McNaught because I was curious what all the fuss was about. Reading it, I didn’t get it, and then lo, I reach the end and there’s an afterword (not even a foreword so you might be, as it were, forewarned) where the author mentions how she’s updated it and removed the objectionable parts!

    I must say I find this urge for PC correctness and avoiding offending sensibilities very tiresome. I think it’s counterproductive to the sexual empowering of women to pass judgement on what fantasies are acceptable, which is one message you can take away from this “cleansing” of content for the modern reader.

    Selene

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  39. Sunita
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 11:12:00

    I thought you might find this article interesting. My colleague Gerald Early is an incredibly thoughtful man. I hope people don’t buy the “cleaned up” Huck Finn, but I think he has a point.

    @GrowlyCub: Totally OT: I miss having tape players in our cars!

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  40. Patrice
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 12:41:26

    I also like to read the original versions of books, they are like time capsules. But I can understand if the author and new publisher wants to revamp and reissue them in more current language and sensibility. It’s a lot of work! I don’t think the classics should be updated. If we forget our history how can we learn to do better? I also find it curious when a book deliberately mentions a particular model car or pop culture reference when it has nothing to do with the story or characterizations. Seems like automatic obsolescence if such references have no point for the story!

    I had no idea “slacks” was an outdated term. So I guess I wear dress pants or my husband wears suit bottoms instead of jeans? Huh. I am not curious enough to go read the reasoning behind that idea. Perhaps I am a slacker. But I think that was a different decade. hmmph. I am officially old. And more curmudgeonly every day. LOL

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  41. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 14:43:23

    @Selene:

    I think it's counterproductive to the sexual empowering of women to pass judgement on what fantasies are acceptable, which is one message you can take away from this “cleansing” of content for the modern reader.

    Bless you!

    @Sunita “Inversely proportional to their usefulness” is why I’m grumpy about it.

    @Isobel Carr Oooh, thank you! My office is cold as a wit– Er, very cold in the winter.

    @Ridley

    To remove all the dated nods to the zeitgeist of the time is to gut the story of its timely relevance. Time periods are more than a set of fashions and technologies. They're a point on a cultural timeline.

    Yes. The thing is, the internet preserves the zeitgeist drilled down to the minute, if not the second, but…what about before that?

    On Twitter today, typewriters were mentioned and Keishon said someone had asked her what a typewriter IS. It might seem inconsequential, but editing a book to remove, say, a typewriter and replace it with a word processor (which many people treat like glorified typewriters) removes entire categories of jobs, not to mention layers of technology.

    I have books I wrote in the 90s I’ve considered retrofitting, but I decided not to because it would require me to rewrite the books, complete with new plot–or simply slap a date on them, which is what I do now anyway.

    I WANT my books to be “dated,” to use the slang and vernacular of the moment, the pop cultural references. I’ve committed some real crimes of fashion in past manuscripts, but they remind me of a place in time.

    Part of seeing into the past is seeing where we are versus where we were and what accomplishments we’ve made (personally and as a society). Do we REALLY want to erase where we came from?

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  42. Writing Roundup, January 20 « Writing « Jen's Writing Journey
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 08:40:36

    [...] With Republication, There Are Updating Risks and Rewards What do you think about making changes to previously published work to make it more palatable to the reader? Or taking the George Lucas tack by re-working previous work to fit a newer vision? [...]

  43. JenD
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 02:31:32

    If we change details to modernize a book- then those details weren’t really necessary to the story. They changed and the book stayed, basically, the same.

    So why were they in the book in the first place?

    If the details are necessary to the story- then changing them changes the story. So why rewrite something that ain’t broke?

    If I read a book that had been modernized I’m not sure I could put aside my philosophical hat and put my reader hat on. I would constantly be wondering ‘why put that in there?’, or worse ‘dear God, why didn’t you leave that out?’.

    Personally, I’d rather just keep the legwarmers, laser disk players and shoulder pads. Hell, we can even keep the Keds.

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  44. Lara Kairos
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 19:19:39

    I’m strongly against re-writing books in order to adapt them for the modern tastes. In my opinion, authenticity is important. Social rules and conventions change constantly, and authors of quality books written years ago give us a wonderful chance to learn how people lived in the past. Of course, if an author is not satisfied with the first published version and wants to revise her book for re-publication, then she certainly has the right to do so.

    As a middle school kid, growing up in another country (not in the U.S.) I loved reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘Tom Sawyer’. They were among my top favorites. The books were translated quite closely to the original with all the ‘bad’ words included. It was like traveling in time and space. The books gave me the true feel of the period and location. I don’t think the modern readers should be deprived of this experience.

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  45. Melissa
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 19:48:20

    I agree.

    I just got done rereading “Fancy Pants” and boy was that dated! But this only adding to to my enjoyment. Hearing the dress descriptions was fun.

    I was interesting to readabout early 80s sex too and how casual sex had just become scary, thechanging attitude toward career.pople’s politics ect.

    I’d forgotten or was too young to care how much things were changing then.

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