Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a huge fan of book series. I’m such a fast reader that stand-alone books just don’t capture my attention in the same way, although I certainly read plenty of them, too. I can knock out a 200-page novel in three hours or so and then be left wanting more, knowing I’ll never get it. I’d much rather watch a group of characters grow and evolve over the course of two, three, or even dozens of books. They become your friends in a way that’s much more satisfying than characters whose stories wrap up in just one book, and you always have something to look forward to as the next sequel looms. But on the other hand, sometimes the wait between new releases can be torturous. What to do?
I started out, like many of us probably did, with The Berenstain Bears. I loved hearing stories about Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, and all the other residents of Bear Country. While I may cringe today at how stereotypically gendered the characters are, when I was a toddler/preschooler, I was always so excited when a new volume came out so I could see what my favorite bear family was up to. Reading about the same characters over and over (and over) was comforting; I already had a pretty good idea of how things would go because I knew those bears. Sure, there were rarely any surprises, but I was okay with that.
As I got older, I moved on to a different series. I tore through the Encyclopedia Brown books. Every month I’d drag my parents to the bookstore at the mall to pick up all the new volumes in the series I followed: The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins/High, The Saddle Club, The Gymnasts, and others I can’t even remember right now. I’d rush home and devour the stories to find out what all my friends were doing. Most of the time, I’d have finished all the books within 2 ““ 3 days, much to the chagrin of my parents. I kept reading these series long after most of my peers had outgrown them because it was too painful to know that the characters would have new adventures that I wouldn’t know about if I stopped reading. I couldn’t betray my friends like that.
Of course, I was also a huge fan of series that had long since been completed. How I loved getting a new boxed set! I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne Shirley because there was so much more detail in their stories. There was no rush to tie everything up neatly in one slim volume. I got to share their childhood adventures, watch them grow up and fall in love, and see what their “happily ever after” turned out to be. I read all of my mom’s old Bobbsey Twins books and hit the library for the ones she didn’t have. (True story, I planned part of my honeymoon around staying in the hotel on the edge of the active volcano’s crater in Hawaii because I’d been fascinated by it in a Bobbsey Twins book I’d read as a kid.) It was great to know that all the books were available for the taking and that I wouldn’t have to wait too long to see what happened next.
As I moved on to more adult books, I fell in love with fantasy series. We read The Hobbit in 7th grade English class and I went on to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy on my own. But this is where things get a bit more complicated. It’s definitely satisfying to finish off a trilogy or series in one sitting, but what do you do if the books haven’t all been written yet? In high school, my best friend introduced me to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series right around the time the sixth book was released, in 1994. I read all six books back-to-back and then had to join in the long wait for sequels. Eighteen years later and the 14th and final book of the series isn’t expect to be released until January of next year. I’ve loved always having more books to look forward to, but the series has been drawn out so long that some of the details of the early books have gotten really fuzzy. I may have to do an epic reread of all 11,000+ pages already written! I love the community aspect of being able to discuss the books with other fans when they’re brand new, but the waiting sucks, especially when you had a really big dose of reading to start with. But at the same time, would I have even picked up the first book if I’d known how long it would take to wrap up? And if I’d waited for the full series to come out, would I have been so overwhelmed by how far behind I was that I’d have skipped them entirely? The Middlemarch Madness bracket is making me want to pick up some Terry Pratchett, but I don’t know when I’d have the time and energy to commit to that many books.
On the other hand, I hate feeling like less of a fan for being late to the game. The Hunger Games somehow wasn’t on my radar when it first came out; it wasn’t until the release of Mockingjay that I saw all my friends freaking out about how much they loved it and decided that it sounded like a series I’d enjoy. I barely managed to put down Hunger Games to feed and play with my kid, and I thought I’d go crazy in the two or three days it took me to get a chance to hit Barnes & Noble for Catching Fire. The same group of friends convinced me to pick up A Song of Ice and Fire a couple months before Game of Thrones premiered on TV. As usual, I read all four books as fast as I could and then, after a few months of eager anticipation, preordered the fifth book so I could read it as soon as it came out. But as much as those months sucked, the “real” fans had been waiting almost 6 years, so I felt like a bit of a fraud when it came to the fandom.
Herein lies the dilemma when I see a new book that looks awesome but is advertised as the first in a series. Do I pick it up immediately so I can share in the full experience, knowing that if I love it the wait for more is gonna suck? Or do I wait until the full series is written, hoping that I don’t hear too many spoilers along the way? Which way you do y’all prefer?