Friday, June 1, 2012

To Update, or not to Update

I've been on a YA/MG horror binge lately, as I work on my new project. I've been searching for recently published ghost stories, and in my digging, I came across a YA book, written just about 30 years ago, that had been updated to include references to e-mail and laptops and iPods and all manner of things that wouldn't have existed in the early 80s, but somehow appear in the published text. 

Upon flipping to the back, I found a discussion with the author in which they described updating their originally contemporary novels to keep them current. Interesting. My first thought - why? Possibly to appeal to the current YA market, but then, several problems arise there. First of all, this was a mild horror story, so the author went to all the trouble of including references to modern technology, only to have to come up with ways to get rid of them, in order to isolate the MC and put them in danger. 
(The old "Oh no! I have no cell-phone reception on this remote island/mountain/abandoned subway/cabin in the wilderness" etc. that everyone has to deal with to avoid the inevitable "Why don't those idiots just call the cops" phenomena, though we all know that crime and assault still happen in this age of constant technological contact. Can we drop all that, and just have the cops not get there in time? Or set our novels in the 80s and prior, to avoid the whole mess?)

Second, I think a teenager of today would understand that when their parents were kids, they did not have cell phones and laptops and the internet. The way my mother understood that her grandparents didn't have a phone when they were kids. It makes you think about what it would have been like to live at that time. I don't think the lack of modern technology would be enough to turn away a currently modern kid from a technologically outdated book. A kid today has lived in a world of technology that they would probably be a little frightened to abandon. So, bonus for the scary stories out there. 

Additionally, this particular novel had reference to characters e-mailing, probably in place of letter writing in the original. Which begged another question, how far do we have to take this concept? When the author updated, just a few years ago, e-mail would have been the way to go. But by the time I picked it up, my first thought was, "That kid would never send an e-mail. This would have been a text message, if not a straight up cell conversation". Once we get started "updating" it doesn't end. We've all seen George Lucas trying to chase that dragon. Technology changes so fast, and kids are usually among the first to adopt-adore-abandon it. Do all contemporary YA/MG writers have to do the same? Do we have to put Siri in everything written before 2012, and then update in six months when it's something new again in 2013?

And lastly, how about posterity? How can classics ever become classics if they get changed? Readers are quite used to encountering times and places and eras that are unfamiliar. It's part of the fun. It's also how we learn, and encounter the new in the old. How better to explain an era than through its written works? Through the language and the atmosphere of the time authentic? Yeah, the 80s are a historical time period now, when it comes to children's lit. All us 30 year old fogies will have to get used to that. 

Ultimately, it was a great book, updated or not. I think I'll try to find an older addition, because sometimes, the only thing that needs to be updated on a book is its cover. 

What do you think? Is there some merit in updating books so they seem more modern and not "historical"? Will more younger readers pick them up? 

(Btw, spellcheck still doesn't like the words internet, iPod, Siri, or even... spellcheck :)


Jenny said...

Hmmm...updating older books seems like a slippery slope to me. I say let them stand as written. Readers are smart enough to get it.

Lily Cate said...

Yeah, I think if they can handle the concept of the Middle Earth, they can handle a world exactly like theirs, but with no cell phones :)

Mikazuki said...

No, that seems rather stupid. I can see the appeal of modernizing a book's cover or design, but not the actual text. If someone wants to not read a book because of the age of the content, let's be honest, I doubt they're going to be that big readers anyway.

Lexa Cain said...

Ha! I read the "Update to the Update Post" before I read this one and was a little confused. But now I see what you're saying. Very good points.

Keep up the revising!
(Laura from Verla-Kays)