Fat Books & Thin Women


Judy Blume’s Time, and Respecting the Reader

Since I didn’t have a lot to do this summer, and my friend got a shipment of young adult books from her mother, I reread some of my childhood favorites. I should stress the “some” there, since the rereads were limited to Beverly Cleary (Henry and Ribsy! Ramona Quimby, Age 8!) and Judy Blume’s Fudge series.

Partway through the first book in the Fudge series I noticed something felt…different. I don’t expect to remember every detail of every book I’ve read in my life, but there are certain things, like references to the internet in a book written in the 1970’s or 80’s, that I can’t help but notice (and recoil from). These were books that I loved when I was growing up, that I read and reread; and to realize that Judy Blume, or her editor, has gone back into the book and added references to current technologies to bring the books “up to date” – well, is it really necessary?

Then there’s Double Fudge. My returns to young adult lit are unpredictable, so I hadn’t realized that Blume published another book in the Fudge series eight years ago. But here we have it, Peter Hatcher checking his email, playing games on his computer, and all.

Thirty years passed between the publications of the first Fudge book, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and the last, Double Fudge. It’s not worth my time to detail the changes, particularly in terms of technology, we’ve seen in that span; you already know.

Within the Fudge series, only a couple of years have passed in the lives of the Hatcher brothers. But behind them time, and technology, zips past, so that even as they are, personally, aged to 1973, the world is in 2002. And more, time is tweaked and edited behind them, certain details changed in order to give the sense that those boys from 1972 or 1973 are living similar lives to those of their readers in 2010.

My question is, simply: why? As a kid, I read hundreds of books, many with characters whose lives bore no similarity to my own, either because they were from a different culture or a different time period. And for me, this was interesting. It was a way to learn about the world, and to exercise my imagination. As far as I know, I wasn’t reading books that had been updated to more accurately depict the reader’s time period.

This is interesting to me in terms of how publishers and authors think their readers are interacting with the books; in some ways, it seems like an influence of a Wikipedia-fied world, in which information can be edited and updated on a whim. (If I want to come back and edit this blog entry in a day or a week or a year to make myself appear more intelligent, I can, and I will.) But one of the pleasures of books, for me, is that they DON’T change, textually. The novels I read as a child – or so I thought – would stay the same for all time, a marker for me to return to. Revisiting Superfudge or Fudge-a-Mania is about getting back to my own childhood as much as the childhoods of Peter and Fudge Hatcher, and if publishers are now taking the opportunity to edit and “update” novels in this fashion, how will today’s kids feel when they return to their favorite books twenty years from now? What will those books look like?

And more, how should an author treat characters she’s returning to twenty or thirty years after she initially wrote about them? I find it odd that Blume moved time forward around her characters; as someone with a mild case of chronophobia, I’m unsettled by the thought of an only partial shift of time, in which characters are not aged but the rest of the world is.

It also seems, much like the small edits and shiftings of time in the earlier Fudge books, to discount the creativity and imagination of readers. Do publishers (and authors) think kids can no longer imagine a world without internet?* That they won’t want to read “dated” books that were written, or appear to have been written, before their own births?

* Excluding here the fantasy genre – Harry Potter, Twilight, Tamora Pierce, which I take it have enough distractions, by their very nature, that the addition of the internet is unnecessary.

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[…] this blog, which I started on September 4th because none of my friends wanted to hear me talk about all the weird edits to Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and I was desperate to think about books again and reverse the disintegration of my English. In […]

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