February 21, 2006
Updating the Classics
Did you know that Are You There God? It's Me Margaret has been "updated" to reflect more modern "menstrual technology?" (That is, they took out the "sanitary belt"; now Margaret uses "disposable adhesive pads.") I can't quite bring myself to believe it, but assuming it's true: how weird is that? It's not like it's a minor part of the book: it's kind of a defining feature, at least as I remember it.
Remember the scene where Margaret secretly tries on the new belt and pad, decides she likes it, and considers wearing it to bed, only to decide against it in case there's a fire? If I remember right, she says "they might discover my secret!" How do you "update" an iconic, genre-defining passage like that? It's like taking the whale out of Moby Dick or something.
Do they do a lot of this sort of thing, silently "updating" novels? Are there any other changes of that kind? I can't imagine anyone thinking that this is a good idea. It seems decidedly "un-literary" anyway. Maybe they do this sort of thing all the time, and I'm blissfully unaware. Maybe Holden Caulfield is a Sum 41 fan and roller blades down Madison Avenue in the later editions of The Catcher in the Rye. You never know, I guess.
(via Annie at Maud's place.)
Posted by Dr. Frank at February 21, 2006 08:47 PM
Normally, I'd be totally anti changing a book. But in this case...
It was so outdated even when I read it for the first time (a billion years ago) -- and I had to (horror of horrors) ask my mother what the hell a 'sanitary belt' was. It terrified me. I pictured some huge S&M black leather contraption.
That bit is the sole reason that I pooh-poohed the book for years. Years. It just didn't make sense to me to recommend a book that was so outdated when I could just recommend Naylor's Alice series. (Until I read Kathryn Lasky's fabulous and wonderful Memoirs of a Bookbat -- that turned me around, belt be damned.)
Anyway. Now I want to read the updated version.
Yeah, Leila, it makes me want to read the new version, too.
It's been awhile since I read it, but as I remember it, how Margaret handles the strangeness of the belt is part of the characterization. I'm really interested to see how the scene I mentioned can be done without the belt. It wouldn't make quite as much sense, and it would portray Margaret's psychology and personality slightly differently I think. I guess I can imagine it being done so that it still feels psychologically sound as far as her characterization goes (and I bet she would still feel self-conscious about something like a pad.) I doubt the scene would be as memorable, though. And at some point in this process, you've got to step back and wonder, is it really even the same novel?
I guess it's only fair that Margaret shouldn't have to be stuck with that belt while the rest of the female population gets to experience the wonder of "disposable adhesive pads." But will the book have to be changed again when there is even more advanced "menstrual technology" and the 13 year olds of 2050 don't know what pads are? This whole thing seems a little ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the thought of Holden Caulfield skating down Madison Avenue with his Ipod shuffle. My god, books should be left alone.
Wasn't Rollerblade Caulfield one
of Patrick Bateman's first victims in American Psycho?
I'm almost torn on this one but I'm OK with the revision for two reasons -- Not only because the horror of having to wear a belt was pretty scarring to all of us in my already freaked out (in that this-is-going-to-happen-to-me-monthly-for-how-long? way) female cohort (and I'm old enough that my 5th grade public school sex-ed class demonstrated sanitary belts although the pad had just about completely replaced them by that date), but also because a vast number of women will admit that this book was their first introduction to the topic of menstruation. Given the latter case, providing accurate information should be seen as a literary obligation, albeit an unfortunate one.
In the overshare category -- the horror having to wear a discrete "disposable adhesive pad" the size of hotdog bun (the best available technology back when I was young) was just as debilitating to me and my already overactive self-consciousness as Margaret's belt was to hers. Not a good thing given a hormonally driven pre-disposition for crying. Which brings me to my confession: I hated this book as a girl. I didn't like Margaret, didn't believe in god, and didn't buy that anyone could look forward to menstruation.
Nonetheless it's good to catch up with you Frank to see that you are still pursuing the great quandaries of life!
Caulfield on rollerblades...hell, we might as well. And while we're at it, Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge just had a midlife crisis and his wife went back to school to sell realty.
I haven't read the book in question, but I don't see any value in updating works of literature. This completely devalues literature in my opinion. Maybe we should change dates in Asimov's books to adjust for a more modern idea of when his fantastic ideas might be reality.
I could really rant about this one, so I'll just step away before I freak out.
I know it's unlike me, but I REALLY can't comment on this topic. It just feels wrong.....
Lame. Even if it is outdated now, it's correct for the time of the story. You wouldn't take a radio out of a story from the 20s and replace it with a computer and iTunes, would you? Or take all the horses out of a western and replace them with motorcycles? Isn't part of the appeal of reading books that were either written long ago or set long ago so you can have a sense of history and what life was like "back then"? Why not just leave it in there and force the generation of kids reading this book to look it up and *gasp* learn something on their own, instead of having the easily digestible version spoon-fed to them?
Steve - I disagree. One of the main reasons the book is so important to so many is that it told us the details - when the adults in our lives were afraid to. I was ready for what happened to my body when I was 12 because of THAT BOOK not because of sex ed or parents. I think it's great to keep it relevant. It's not about giving a history lesson on the development of feminine hygiene products - It's geared towards prepubescent girls who are looking forward to this big change, and it's about helping girls make that transition, and feel okay, and not like they're alone. I'm telling you: without that book, I would have just started bleeding one day and would have had NO IDEA WHY. And yeah - I grew up in the 70s - but no one told me shit. That book was a godsend. Anyway, I am sure there are still girls out there like me ... and I, for one, am glad that it has been rendered a bit more familiar for future generations.
Hmm, well I'm starting to detect a pattern here. Girls are for the new, improved, beltless Margaret; boys (and Courtney) against. I supposed the therapeutic aspects of that book don't loom as large for us. OK, they don't loom at all for me, obviously. I guess I can't speak for Courtney.
I have to say, though, I am truly surprised by this result. We don't usually judge novels on the basis of whether they impart "accurate information." (And the outdated equipment certainly hasn't stopped this book from being read and loved through generations.) Are there any other novels where this kind of tinkering would be applauded or encouraged? Or just this one particular book?
I was actually pretty confused about the sanitary belt when I read the book. I still don't know what it is exactly. If a girl is reading it trying to get some kind of grasp on what is happening, or what is going to happen, she's probably going to be creeped out. Especially since she'll see tampon commercials on tv. Think of the monstrousities you can come up with when attaching your young view of a tampon with the term "sanitary belt." In the end though I guess I don't see the point in changing it.
OK, so now it's girls vs. boys, Courtney and Manda. Welcome aboard, girl.
You know, as a kid, I'd have probably liked H. Caulfield a little more if there had been a D&D scene in there somewhere. But I don't think I ever found any literary adolescent guy relatable as a kid, with the possible exception of Paul Muad'dib.
I just don't think that this book carries as much weight in the sex-ed department as it once did. As a child of the 90's, I looked at this book more as a fun, maybe slightly taboo read than a lesson on puberty. While I think it is too outdated in some ways to relate to today's pre-teen girls, I see no need to change a classic book in order to keep up with today's technology. In the age of the internet where a kid can find out anything with the click of a button, and tampon/pad commercials that air every 5 minutes making it impossible to not be aware of your period, I find it kind of silly to be changing what is essentially a literary artifact as if it is a manual. Also, without this book I wouldn't have even known that there was something before pads, and I guess something can be said for its educational value in that sense.
Now that I think about it, Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper was pretty relatable. But the afterschool special "help I'm scared of the changes happening to my body" attitude of a lot of the "sexy" kids books never rang very true in my world....
Yeah, Courtney, "Literature or Therapy?" seems to be the question here. The weird thing is, I really would have assumed that all the "booky" types I know would answer L., like you have.
And I still think the whole idea of "updating" books is extremely odd. And I still don't know: does it happen a lot? And how do you tell?
In general, I'm not for it, by the wayI am a traditionalist. DON'T touch my classics! But in this case - and granted, it's from my very personal experience of literally knowing what to do when I got my period FROM THAT BOOK ... I think it's cool that it would be updated. I have great affection and gratitude towards Judy Blume - because I had NO information going into puberty - and she helped me. She really did.
Although I imagine that the internet does change things as courtney said.
I've never read the book. Knowing what it's about makes me feel bad saying that, being a girl and all. But, I'd have to say they should leave it the same because I never would have known about any kind of belt thingy otherwise. I guess it was before my time. Had I known that, I might've read the book. Now I just need to know if there are any pictures of it. I can't really imagine...
Sheila, believe me: I know that about you! (The traditionalism, the "don't touch my classics" attitude, I mean.) That's what's so fascinating to me. I would really never have predicted in a million years that you would "vote" that way.
I'm trying to think if there's any book where I'd make an exception to my general "leave it alone" policy when it comes to novels, movies, art in general. I doubt there is one, but it's an interesting thought experiment.
This is definitely an exception for me. If they re-wrote Jane Eyre so that she chatted to Mr. Rochester on her cell phone to make it more "relevant", I would personally firebomb the publishing house that okayed it.
I guess there's just no way on earth I could be objective about this particular book (Are you there God) since it, pretty much, showed me what to do in a really really lonely awful time of my life - and i know I'm not alone - lots of women have had that same experience. Without getting too graphic (uhm, is it already too late?) there was such silence and shame in my household around this whole issue of growing up, and sexuality, that I actually wrote Judy Blume a letter when I was 16, thanking her for that book. And she wrote me back!! This book is special.
I'm glad to hear younger women say that it's not an issue for them, and that they were much more prepared - but i wasn't. So ... in case there are still other girls out there who don't have the Internet, who have parents who are ASHAMED of their daughters bodies changing, as opposed to supporting them ... I hope the book remains relevant. It really helped me.
I'm normally against updating fiction, but I know so many women whose first source of menstrual information was that book that I'm not against it in this case.
I don't know that the Internet has revolutionized finding information about menstrual products. As an early member of a menstrual cup support community, I've had exchanges with women that are completely unfamiliar with their anatomy and don't or won't use descriptive anatomical terms.
For Amy 80 and others curious about what sanitary belts look like, there's a page about them at the Museum of Menstruation: http://www.mum.org/belts.htm
I read the book when I was 11 or 12, I didn't know what the hell a sanitary belt was but I got the idea. It didn't take away from the story for me at all. By changing this book, it's one more instance of the repression of women. The past needs to live on, so that girls in the future will read it understand women in the past. Girls 30 years from now should read it and go, "What's a sanitary belt?" And then break out their iPods, which I'm sure at this point will have internet access built into it so that it doesn't matter if you're near a wireless router or not, search out Museum of Menstruation and read about what a sanitary belt is and say "Wow, I learned something new today."
Write a new book, don't mess with old books.
Thanks, Melissa. They're something else. I get their purpose and I don't at the same time. Were the pads really sliding around that much? The packaging for all of them made me laugh, though.
So Frank, how did you deal with this problem while writing your own book? I know you reference music, but do you mention "now" music, or current technology, possibly the most modern feminine products? I imagine that it must be difficult to try to write a novel that won't seem dated in 50 years.
I've never read it, so I'm not exactly sure how it reads. If it reads as pure literature, it probably shouldn't be touched, but there may be room for some sort of afterward explaining some of the differences between what Margaret went through and what girls today might expect. If it reads more as a menstruation survival guide, it should totally be updated so thirteen year old girls can relate to it today.
I guess that's my John Kerry version of a vote: I'd like more information before I commit.
Again, I haven't read either one of these, but isn't that what The Way is compared to the New Testament?
I had one of those things-sure-have-changed moments the other day. I was at my nephew's iceless hockey game and I noticed that there wasn't any giant rope hanging from the rafters in his gym. There were probably a few drops and the lawsuits that follow. I was always so proud of myself when I tagged the ceiling. Remember coming down too fast and getting rope-burn.
First of all, thank you Melissa!
I'm pretty young and I still learned a lot more from this book than from my family. It wasn't so much that it was kept secret as it was that I lived with my grandparents. I would like to know which of you could be comfortable discussing your period with your grandmother. I could forsee this book coming back into vogue as education as more school districts are being challenged on things like sex education all the time. In the end perhaps the mention (fear) of a sanitary belt might push girls into talking to an adult about it.
I simply could not read an updated version of any classic. I shun most books written after 1980...
Sometimes a footnote is enough.
Remodernization is a little exaggerated, they probably want to remarket it with some flashy new artwork and all.
After all if they make it modern it might sell more rather than slowly drifting into being a "classic".
But maybe modern girls would be happy to know how lucky they are to have missed the whole "sanitary belt" ordeal.... and it also made the book funnier because it was so ridiculous.
I think it would mainly take away some laughs, and not really be of much help in the self-improvement/information area.
Do they still print the old version? Did Judy Blume write the new version? If both are available and people are aware of what they're getting, it might be win-win.
Reminds me of the big brou-haha when Steven Spielberg went back and AIRBRUSHED the guns out of the police officer's holsters in ET for the re-release of the film. He airbrushed them out and put walkie-talkies in their place. Because - ooooh ... guns are so scaaaaaaaaary
Now I love Steven Spielberg but I thought that was a stupid stupid move. I'm glad I own the original ET - packed chock-full with real-live firearms.
I never read the book.
I, personally, am a little creeped out that Frank read it and did not cast it aside, whimpering, when it came to the icky girly bits. Worse yet, he *remembers* the icky girly bits!
Tell me this was research, background reading you did for _King Dork_, Frank.
Angie, I never said I didn't cast it aside whimpering! I even wrote a song about it...
yeah i definitely had that book and read it, but my mind must have repressed all of those girly parts. i seriously don't recall that stuff at all. then again i've been on a steady diet of psychoactive drugs for most of the time since i read it. the saga of superfudge remains clear in my memory banks, though.
Superfudge is one of my favorite books of ALL TIME.
Frank, my curiosity led me to contact The Lawrence Arms via their myspace page about their song, "Are You There Margaret? It's Me God." I was hoping at least for a partial-homage to the MTX tune, but what their song asks is, what if God called out to Margaret? Creepy.
Oh and my vote is with the boys. The belt stays.
Frank, this kind of topical revision almost never happens in children's books (except for removing racist stereotypes, like in Lofting's Dr. Dolittle). I imagine "Margaret" was revised due to the affectionate nostalgia of 30-something book editors who couldn't bear to otherwise let it slip out of print. Judy Blume's 'problem novels' haven't aged well in general -- their great strength, that they were so strongly rooted in contemporary life of the 1970s, means they are dated and irrelevant to modern kids. (Think of the shame the kids feel about their parents' divorce in her "It's Not the End of the World" -- seems silly now.) There are many classic YA novels that simply don't matter to actual kids for that reason. They were valuable and beloved in their day, but I'd discard them from my library.
Yeah, Nicole, I guess I see it primarily as a cultural artifact (and it is and really still remains a big one.) The more disconnected from ordinary experience, in a way, the more interesting. It can be appreciated on its own terms as thing of its time and place, less so if it is "translated." Margaret is actually a pretty remarkably well-drawn character, even if she doesn't resemble today's eleven year olds much, which partly accounts for the fact that as many readers seem to dislike her as identify with her. (And since the '70s casts such a shadow over the YA tradition in general, as you point out, the Judy Blume corpus is interesting as an epitome of an approach and background and attitude that is constantly subverted, updated, obliquely commented on, etc., so it's interesting if even only for that role. )
But if you see Margaret and this book as primarily a - what's the word? I used "therapeutic" earlier, but maybe that's too dismissive. Inspirational? Informational? (There's maybe even almost a "political" or ideological character to the type of nostalgic enthusiasm that wants this book to remain as a living symbol, even at the expense of tinkering with the text.) Anyway, if you see it that way, like a component of a sex ed class or a social program you might see the book differently. That seems to take it out of the realm of literature, though.
It's interesting that the 20-something (and maybe younger?) girls who've commented here (those who read the book as pre-teens as well as those who didn't) are much less concerned with bringing Margaret into the 21st century than the 30-is or 40-ish ones. Maybe that says something about the character of nostalgic literary perception and appreciation, though I'd hesitate to try to say exactly what.
If they wanted to update it so it would still be a relevant tool for sex ed, why not just add an appendix with clarifications of outdated terms and comparisons to their modern counterparts? It seems silly to change the actual text of the book. Once we set that precedent, why not fix the title of a certain George Orwell book to more accurately depic our current idea of when the future is?
I have to say I am against revising the book. But take that with a grain of salt because I am the only girl I know who never read it. Back in the late 80's, early 90s when I was that age, all my friends read the Blume books (I was more of a Cleary reader). My best friend was almost named for a character in one of them, and she had the WHOLE collection. Because of her, I know what the books were about.
The question of belts does open up dialogue. I brought up the matter with my own mother in 1992 and asked her if she had ever used one. She laughed and said Kotex was already in existence at the time she needed them. She's 62, so I gotta wonder why Margaret wasn't starting out on pads to begin with.
As for growing sources of knowledge for young girls, the info is out there. Scarleteen.com is one of my favorites. If you want to help out innocent and clueless pubescent kids, donate a couple of bucks to their organization.
I feel compelled to read 'Forever' now.
'Forever' was one of those books (along with 'Flowers in the Attic') that got passed around at recess and on the school bus so that everyone could read the naughty bits. I vaguely remember something about aftershave.
I suspect that re-reading it as an adult is going to be a very different experience.
There is a word for it: bibliotherapy. You're right that its emphasis can be on the book's usefulness rather than on its literary value. However, it's unusual for a strictly didactic book to have enough power to forge a meaningful (or healing, or inspirational) connection, so clearly quality counts for something. In a broad sense, all books serve as therapy; in a more real sense, we're talking about "Do you have a book that will teach my kindergartener to share?" and maudlin memoirs of redemption like "A Child Called It."
"Margaret" is more than bibliotherapy, but it's not "The Book of Three."
And I imagine that those of us who read the book back when it was new feel that its contemporary realistic setting was the source of its power, and would like to see that aspect continue for the next generations, even if the book has to be revised. Those women who read it ten or 20 years later never felt that particular connection in the first place, although they may have loved it anyway, so they can't imagine why a contemporary setting would be required.
I'm not *that* old that I read it when it was brand-new ... I read it in 1980 or so, when I was about 10, less than ten years after it was published in 1972.
I also forgot: the Nancy Drew books have been updated many times.
Yeah, I knew that about Nancy Drew, though I've never seen a new one. I may be wrong, but they always seemed a little less than "real" in a literary sense, to me. My public library didn't have them. None of my schools would accept a book report on Hardy Boys books. (Though I did manage to get away with a report on _The Truth about Fonzie_ in sixth grade - so there was a weird standard. You could get that book and Horshack! A Sweathogs Handbook at the school library, but not Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew.)
Anyway, maybe that's why it doesn't strike me as bizarre that they would be updated, whereas it does with Judy Blume.
What are the new Nancy Drew ones like? Is it like _The Case of the Bling-bling Beeyotch and her Hella Coolio Homies_? Or is it more sublte?
I wonder what Judy thinks of the update... would they be allowed to update it without her consent?
No, I'm sure it's her work. It would have to be. And hell, Whitman revised Leaves of Grass, like 800 times. And I'd sure love to go back and fix some stuff on some of my old records. All of them, actually...
Dr. Frank, don't you dare try and "fix" anything on your old records. You can't fix something that isn't broken. Oh no, you aren't going to re-release your song titled after this book to reflect the new version of the book are you? Oh, the humanity...
Frank, you probably *have* seen altered Nancy Drew books. The classic yellow cover books that most people remember were first published in the late 50's and early 60's when new books were written for the series (originally only 30 some odd books) and the over the next 20 years the blue clothbound books from earlier eras were revised and republished. Many of the revisions were typical to syndicated books of that era (Hardy Boys, etc.) and changed racially charged language but there are some examples where whole story lines were changed.
The Secret of the Old Clock is a good example of these changes and a quick Google led me to a web page that recaps the differences: http://users.tellurian.com/bksleuth/OldClock.htm
Interesting, Robyn. The '30s Nancy seems to have had a little more oomph, but both of these worlds seem quite weird in their own way. I assume it was updated again since the '50s? The Secret of the Old iPod?
//The Case of the Bling-bling Beeyotch //
I am guffawing with laughter.
Unfortunately I don't remember the original well enough to make a 'contrast and compare' with the new/old scenes.
But I definitely approve.
Nancy Drew is like Stephanie Plum. Not high in literary quality, but stylized, action-packed, and full of formulaic appeal.
For those who don't know, a "sanitary belt" is -- or was when I first used one -- a simple elastic band you wore around your waste that has two elastic straps with clips on them attached fore and aft. You took your pad and tucked the ends of the pad (which had extensions of the outer covering for that purpose on either end) somehow through the clips. Or you could own the ones that had closing toggled on the clips like old-fashioned garter belts used to have. They were inconvenient and often came loose, so as soon as the stick-on pads came out I threw out my belt.
I can't really identify with the "freaked out and scarred" contingent here, maybe because I wasn't particularly upset by starting to get a period. I just found it an annoyance. I also find annoying this tendency to "update" novels to make them more "relevant" to the ignoramuses reading them. So much for instilling a sense of history in people. As well, there is an undercurrent of treating "young people's" literature like self-help tomes that really grates.
Er, that should be "around one's _waist_." I blame PMS.
Count me among those against updating the book. I'm curious as to who did the re-write, Blume or the publisher?
I read "Margaret" several times as a girl and enjoyed it, pads, belts and all. It seems to me part of Women's culture is lost with rewriting the book.
Judy Blume is a terrible writer, Forver... anyone?
She describes a bagel and lox breakfast that seems downright sensual compared to her description of a fist time sexual encounter in the previous chapter. Pfffbbbhhtt
As someone who had already learned about menstruation from Blume's "Just as long as we're together" (set in the '80s), I just saw the sanitary belt as, pardon the pun, period detail. Maybe the best thing would be to footnote the first mention of the sanitary belt and explain that technology had changed?
I think it's worse than ridiculous, to change and modernize ANY book! In fact, I posted about this very topic last night. What's next, "Little House in the Suburbs?" It's a travesty. Why can't we acknowledge that our smart kids are perfectly capable of reading a book and accepting its plotline in the context of the times? And learning a few things along the way, about how it was 'back in the day?' And yes, this updating scheisse is being done with other books, too.
I think it's worse than ridiculous, to change and modernize ANY book! In fact, I posted about this very topic last night. What's next, "Little House in the Suburbs?" It's a travesty. Why can't we acknowledge that our smart kids are perfectly capable of reading a book and accepting its plotline in the context of the times? And learning a few things along the way, about how it was 'back in the day?' And yes, this updating scheisse is being done with other books, too. I think that even the stereotyping and smoking should be left alone, so our kids might read and learn how it was back then.