That’s the nature of rereading a work in progress, but what about something that has already been in print for years? That was my experience recently when updating The Kingmaker: How Northern Dancer Founded a Racing Dynasty, which is scheduled to be re-released by Lyons Press in May. Seventeen years have gone by since the book was originally published, and since then, a lot of water has gone under the bridge.
Given that the book was initially released to good reviews, I didn’t expect rereading it to be a disconcerting experience. I already knew about a couple of relatively minor errors, which I was glad to have the chance to fix, and I remain reasonably content with the quality of the writing. Not completely satisfied; I’m sure I could do a better job now with nearly two decades’ further practice of my craft if I started from scratch, but that’s not the purpose of a reprint. The bulk of my time was spent on updating the accomplishments of the Dancer’s sons and descendants, which was a predictable issue given that some of his sons and virtually all his major grandsons were still in service at the time of The Kingmaker’s original release.
The moments of strangeness during the revision came when I had to update the tense of passages from present to past, reflecting the deaths of people and horses who had been very much alive at the time of initial publication. It is sobering to reread the words of someone you actually talked with while you were writing a manuscript and realize that they are now the words of the dead, and there is a sense of dislocation in revisiting the memories of events and horses that were fresh then but have now passed on while you continue.
I don’t find such reflections particularly morbid, but they are a kind of memento mori, a reminder that I, too, will pass on in my time and leave whatever wisdom or information or even humor I may impart in the words and memories I leave behind me. When I have gone on to my true home, I would like to think that what I leave behind will give rise to a smile or a moment’s thought or gratitude, just as others have left these things for me to remember when I read their words and remember a little of the life behind them.