Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Update to the Update Post

The next book I picked up after the 80s YA was a 70s MG.
Not an update to be seen. I have a hypothesis about this*

The difference in age group has to be a factor there. There's still something about technology in the hands of younger children that makes parents - and especially grandparents - grimace. It seems that with preteens, there is still enough fight to keep the electronic gadgets away, but by teenagerhood, we've given up, with much moaning and lamenting.

So, leave the older MG books alone, because its fine to have those kids living in an outdated world, (because sometimes it seems like we're trying to raise our kids in a fairyland bubble of what we think the world should be like, instead of how it really is) but update the YA, because teenagers don't or won't read about kids without cell phones and iPods?

* I am basing this hypothesis on exactly one example from each category, which happened to tip off an internal discussion with myself over what parents think of updating older books vs. what authors think vs. what the intended readers think, seeing as the kids who would have read these books when they were current now have children that are in the intended reader age range. I know the perspective of writer and parent, but how about kid reader? Do they care? Will updating or not updating make a book more appealing?

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 :)