Teatime: Alternate Editions

I personally believe strongly in “read and let read,” i.e., let people enjoy the books they enjoy without judgment if it doesn’t affect you and no one is being harmed; I don’t believe in shaming people if they need or prefer to consume their media in a different format than you, or that any books are inherently “better” or more valid than others. But since reading is already a very subjective experience when two people are reading the same exact book, how much more might their impressions differ when they aren’t reading the same words?

Types of Alternate Editions

Before we get into it, I want to clarify that this post is not about different formats (audio, digital, print, etc.) or movie/TV adaptations or cover redesigns. Instead, I want to look at reprints that involve deliberate changes to the book’s contents, often with a different audience in mind — which can be done in a number of ways.

 

Translations

Whether you’re picking up Briticisms from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, challenging your high-school French skills with Le Petit Prince, or honoring the historical and cultural significance of 西遊記, there’s no shortage of reasons to tackle the original-language version of a book if you can.  That said, translations are terrific for those who may not understand the author’s native language (or, more accurately, the language they chose to write the book in) … or who want to practice reading in another language by trying a translation of a familiar book.

 

Annotated (Footnotes)

I’m actually not 100% sure that this category belongs with the others, but it definitely changes the reading experience so I decided to include it anyway. My first experience with annotated works was Shakespeare — likely Romeo & Juliet, since that was required reading for my freshman year of high school —  and I will admit that I would not have understood much, even at the basic plot level, without the “translations” of certain phrases to modern English as well as some historical/cultural notes. 

Of course, annotations/footnotes can also be used for humorous asides and general context in modern works. Crazy Rich Asians is a good example of this usage (aside from the fact that the footnotes are part of the original, as far as I know) since it focuses on Singaporean socialite culture and features various Asian-language idioms that Western readers are unlikely to understand.

 

Young Readers’ 

Despite the name, so-called “Young Readers’ Editions” can really be for any age. Often they’re marketed towards children or pre-/young teens, but I’ve known teenage and even adult readers who read them as a kind of “primer” in preparation to try the original; they can also be useful for people learning the language and/or the culture. There are several approaches to modifying books (usually classics) for this purpose, from retelling the whole story in simplified language to excerpting the most important plot points, and therefore these can be very similar to or completely different from the original edition of the book.

 

Abridged & Extended / “Author’s Cut”

Again, these tend to exist mainly for classics and other popular books, where there is already interest in the original. In my experience, they usually add or remove certain scenes from the middle of the story rather than, say, rewriting the ending; this can affect the reader’s understanding of the characters and plot, as well as create controversy between fans over the significance of the parts in question, but ultimately it’s still the same book with some slight changes.

 

So Why (Not) Read Alternate Editions?

Overall, original editions contain the minutiae of the author’s creation, including wording (figurative language and other phrasings) and various details of plot/setting/etc.,  whereas alternate editions are more accessible to a wider audience and may also get readers interested in eventually picking up the original. Because there is so much variety in the way alternate editions are created, it can be difficult to generalize about their effects on the reading experience — but at the end of the day, they get more people to read, and isn’t that the end goal?


Have you ever read an alternate edition of a book? If you’ve also read the original, how did the two compare? Do you think the accessibility and wider appeal of an alternate edition outweighs the possibility of losing things “in translation” for a different audience?

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27 thoughts on “Teatime: Alternate Editions

  1. As a child I read the children’s versions of classics like The Jungle Book and they made the language much more accessible while keeping true to the plot, I wouldn’t hesitate to have my daughter read versions like that, great post Isabelle, and I’m always a big believer in translated editions, I love Metro 2033 and I would love it if more books written in English were made accessible to those who aren’t fluent in it by giving them their own language version of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree – read and let read! I haven’t even thought too much about it. I mean, why not?! I worry/think most about my own needs/preferences as a reader than anyone else’s. If anything, I admire someone who can read advanced Shakespeare or Plato or what have you, because I know I can’t! Give me the abridged, illustrated version! ;P Ok, maybe not quite but sometimes I do pick up alternate versions myself just to get through.

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    1. read and let read, worrying about what you’re doing rather than anyone else, is definitely a good attitude to take! and hey, even if you read the abridged illustrated version, you can still say you’ve read Shakespeare/Plato 😉

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  3. So, here’s the thing; All my book prior to the ones I bought in 2018 are all french or french translated. why? because back then I couldn’t read in english (or so I thought..) so many books that were not translated, either recent released or series where nothing got translated after the first one – was innaccessible to me.
    Now, however, they are accessible; But in some ways I still do need to read my french ones xd so it depends on the book, really.

    Apart of translated, I haven’t tried the others !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Since I read in both languages I get to experiences some books in my native tongue over the English one since alot of words and sentences and their meanings change because of the barrier between them. I always try to get either the English over the Hebrew since depending on the translator they don’t always do a good job.

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    1. thanks Kelly! I actually still have some of my “classic starts” (aka classics for kids) books in edition to copies of the originals, and while I haven’t reread them I remember them fondly 💕 they’re definitely great for getting kids interested in stories they might not otherwise be able to keep up with!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved reading this post ❤ I’ve read The Vegetarian which is a translated Korean story but I really, really loved it. While I do think the original would be more authentic, I think the translation gave me a chance to read the story or I would’ve completely missed this amazing book. So yes, sometimes the altered editions are great 😀

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  6. I would always when younger read the younger versions of classics like the Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast they just make it so much more accessible. I would love to read something like the original Hunchback of Notre Dame but it’s size and how it is written is so daunting.

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  7. I always feel like I’m missing out on details/potential in a story that would’ve enriched it whenever I realize I’ve got the Young Readers or Abridged version. Like Mortal Engines. This one’s even sadder cuz there isn’t even an extended/older version! Idk if you already know but it was originally going to be targeted at an older audience but was turned into a middle grade version after the author was approached with a publishing offer who made the suggestion.

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  8. What an interesting post! I do read translated books which is a way I read an alternate edition. Back in secondary school when I read Shakespeare we had the annotated ones, but now I like my Shakespeare without them. But I know back then I would’ve needed them. I like footnotes when they are included in the story? Kind of like in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I can see the footnotes in Crazy Rich Asians and sometimes I check them, sometimes I don’t >>

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    1. I aspire to be able to read Shakespeare without annotations, major props to you! it’s actually been forever since I read Bartimaeus so I can’t quite remember how the footnotes are done there (maybe time for a reread 🤔), but CRA has lots and they’re definitely not all completely essential to the story.

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  9. Mhmmm I bought a copy of one of the books I’d already read in English, in French to try and help with French and erm…it confused me more because I wasn’t used to the layout. They used >> << to indicate dialogue and as I’ve always been used to ” ” it really threw me off because it was like the dialogue wasn’t separated in my brain, of course it was but it wasn’t something visually I was used to seeing, to separate dialogue. Alternate editions are super helpful as stepping stones for people to get to say the original or understand a language better, loved this post Izzy ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For me it depends on the book. I try reading in the original languages as much as possible, but that can’t always happen. I have seen some differences, especially with translations. The best example is Harry Potter, because some of the scenes read like the translator read the original story and then retold that story with what information they remembered…not a great way to read a story. I do have my doubts about UK editions vs US editions having different scenes or different wording…since both are in English, I have to wonder which one is the real story, and which one will inform the translations that will occur…because either way you will have one group of people reading a slightly different book or scene in a book. Great discussion, Izzy!!

    Liked by 1 person

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