The Pleasures of Reading Book Series

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?

Image of the Berenstain Bear family

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.

Complete Anne of Green Gables boxed setOf 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.

Cover art: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne CollinsOn 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?

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[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

41 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Reading Book Series”

  1. my solution to the leaving characters behind in a one shot? FAN FIC.

    Solution to waiting for the next in a series of books comes out? FAN FIC.

    Reread Narnia/Dark is Rising/LotR too many times? FAN FIC.

    I can’t stand the wait between releases. I totally intentionally put off Hunger games until Mockingjay came out- I had hunger games rec’d to me shortly after it was published.

    On the other hand, I went in costume to the harry potter book releases, and the speculation! Fandom was so much more bizarre before the last couple of books came out, because there was a wider variety of possible explanations and back stories.

  2. You and I seem to have the same taste in books! Except I haven’t read all of A Song of Ice and Fire yet; that will happen soon as I just bought them all.

    Oh, do I remember those Wheel of Time books. I stopped with book 9, I think. I’ve been tempted to go back and revisit them but they are SO HUGE that it would take up so much of my time.

    Seeing as how our taste is similar, you’ll love Pratchett. I am a HUGE Pratchett fan and I just read his entire Discworld series this past year. So much love for him.

  3. I too started on The Berenstein Bears.  I loved series for similar reasons – I couldn’t get enough of books when I was a kid.  (I still read now, but I’ve had a harder time finding books I like. I read the Boxcar Children, Little House, Anne of Green Gables, Narnia, Lloyd Alexander, Cynthia Voigt, Susan Cooper, Tolkien, Agatha Christie…and way more.  All the way up to Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Kane Chronicles, Percy Jackson, Michael Scott’s Flamel series, Jemisin…

    Oh – and Cornwell, Robin Cook, Reichs, Crichton, Preston & Child, Sophie Kinsella, Julie Kenner, Watterson, Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc,  Jennifer Sturman, the Bourne books, Patterson, Fforde, – how did I forget Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, Trixie Belden, and Cam Jansen? – Ursula LeGuin, L’Engle, Alcott, Bunnicula…

    I think maybe I’m book obsessive…

  4. My favourite fantasy series is The Wind on Fire trilogy. It seems to be fairly obscure but I absolutely adore it. And of course, His Dark Materials. I think a trilogy is the furthest I’ll go with a book – after three books I get bored, I’m very flighty.

  5. I had the misfortune of starting Harry Potter the summer # 5 came out, so I got all caught up with the series and then had to anxiously wait for 6 & 7 to arrive.  I think from now on I’ll wait for series to be over with before I take a crack at them, simply because I can’t handle the suspense of waiting for the next ones. It’s made me wary of reading the Millennium Series, because even though it’s currently a trilogy, apparently Stieg Larsson wrote 3/4 of the 4th book before he died and his family has been fighting over the rights of it. I’m not sure I can start something addicting that I can’t finish…

  6. Arrrgh! Except for me its The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson! Zipped on through the first and second series. Then off he goes and writes the final final Chronicles. One more year for the last novel! That’s a 3 year wait not to mention the paranoia of “what if something happens and the book never gets written!” lol.

    1. The cursing that came out of my mouth when I found out Robert Jordan died without finishing Wheel of Time was not pretty. He left notes and told his wife/editor to give them to someone else to finish them, but if it had just been 12 books and then no conclusion, there would have been riots.

  7. I’m quite against series, to be honest. Maybe I’ve simply encountered too many weak ones, but I think it’s a golden star for an author if he can keep a great story confined in one book (instead by weakening it because it needs to be spread out over three books).

    1. I would disagree, but I have found many really GOOD series. Like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. That’s not just one story, it’s many stories in a universe. I explained it to a friend as almost like episodes of a TV show.

      I think it’s a strong point if an author can build an idea up around so many characters and you get such a feel for the universe her or she created that you really get attached to it.

      1. Discworld is definitely the exception to that rule. But that is a good way of a series, worldbuilding with several plot lines inside it. Not ‘Unlikely boy will become hero and marry special girl’ over four books and 10000 words (Goodkind, I’m looking at you!).

  8. I think we might have been the same child.

    I wish I had the time to read series now. I hesitate to get into them because I know that I’ll be sucked into the MustFinishThisNOW vortex and abandon all my other responsibilities.

  9. The good thing about the Discworld books is there are several points to pick them up at and you don’t have to have read all the previous ones, at all.  The handy reading guide – via PoM – is handy (click to download cos it’s a large image for here).

    May I recommend Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle? It’s eight books packaged for a trilogy for publication, plus a prequel of sorts in the form of Cryptonomicon. It’s science fiction, historical fiction, history-of-science fiction, and minor characters include Newton, Leibniz,  Huygens, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Sophie of Hanover, and various other heads of royalty. Plus one of the most badass female characters I’ve ever read.

  10. I am disappointed that Harry Potter didn’t make your list.  :-(

    I’m a bit older than the average reader here – my first series was The Boxcar Children (which came out way before I was born but my elementary school library had all of them).  Such wonderful little books and such a fabulous way to fall in love with reading!  I find myself gravitating to serial books for many of the same reasons as you – I hate it when a great story ends!  I want more, more, more!  I re-read my favorite series (I can’t count how many times I’ve read the HP books) regularly, even though I can almost quote them by heart.  And, I really don’t mind coming late to series because it means not  having to wait for the next book.

    I’m in the middle of a re-read of the A Song of Fire and Ice books now and next up is Hunger Games, which I haven’t read at all yet.  I’m also really excited about the new Clockwork Angel series.  Loved the first two, can hardly wait until the next one.

    Gosh, there are so many series to love.  The YA books The 39 Clues was great.  JD Robb’s “In Death” series.  Christine Feehan’s Carpathian “Dark” series.  Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books. I could just keep going.  Love love love.

     

     

     

    1. …I honestly don’t know how I forgot to mention Harry Potter. I didn’t read it until Chamber of Secrets came out and my little sister and mom told me how awesome the books were; I’d just assumed that anything that popular had to suck (cough, Twilight, cough). I actually sneaked a copy of Half-Blood Prince out of the bookstore I worked at an hour before the official release since I had to close that night and we didn’t stay open for a release party. With Deathly Hallows they refused to let us set up the display the night before so I waited in line at Duane Reade until I realized they were charging full price, then tried B&N but the line was ridiculous so I stomped home and pouted.

    2. Lol, when I read the title I immediately thought of Boxcar Children & Harry Potter..  Glad I’m not the only one who thought of them!

      Next up for me is Song of Fire and Ice.  Hunger games is awesome!  I suggest putting aside a weekend to read all three.  I haven’t met anyone yet who was able to read the first one without finishing the series a few days later.  The books all end mid plot, so it’s impossible not to get drawn to the next one.

  11. I only like reading a series as it comes out if I know it’s going to have an end, or the books can be read on their own. Robert Jordan put me off reading a series that looked like it might never end. All the characters left at some cliff hanger event, and then years and years between books. I refuse to read George R.R.  Martin for the same reasons. I don’t mind waiting for a good book, but I have my limits. I’ve been reading Naomi Novik’s series, and while there’s not an ending that I’ve heard about, at least each book brings that volume’s adventures to a conclusion before something new starts in the next book.

  12. A always pick stuff up right off the bat. Sometime I become a horrible crab beast waiting for the next installment (for the most recent example see the Keys to the Kingdom series), but I am in no way good at waiting to read the first book in order for the last one to come out.

    If you would like to try out some Prattchet without commiting to 20 some odd novels, might I suggest the Wee Free Men books? The story arcs neatly over 4 books, and then comes to a more or less definitive stop. Some of the characters that appear show up in other novels, but I feel like these four are meant to work as their own thing. (Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight)

    My problem comes when I get to the last book. I never want to finish it. I just asked the bookstore to hold a copy of Timeless for me, so I can pick it up after work. It’s the last book in the Parasol Protectorate series. The only reason I am not completely heartbroken over this is that *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS*

     

    the author has promised that there will be a new series all about Alexia’s daughter, after she finishes the one she is working on now.

  13. I have always been a fan of long books for the same reason! I never want them to end. I need to know everything that happens.

    My absolute favorite series of all time is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. All the books are really long and she’s working on book 8 now and there is probably going to be at least one more. Plus, she’s written tons of short stories/novels about secondary characters so you get this whole world. It’s great.

  14. I was fortunately unfortunate enough to discover Harry Potter when the first one was bright and shiny and new, even though I was already well out of the suggested reading age of the first one. This made for an anxious ten years as the books came out, one by one. The wait for book five was particularly excruciating — and then when I did get my copy, I accidentally drank triple my usual dose of caffeine (chai PLUS espresso, for some reason known only to that specific small-town barista) and so I kept having to stop reading and focus on deep breathing because any suspense at all caused my heart to skip and skitter and steal the breath from my lungs. I was slightly worried I might die. It was awesome.

  15. Nothing made me sadder than finishing the last book in A Series of Unfortunate Events (when I was 22, by the way. Children’s books schmildren’s books–I love me some clever wordplay). At least Daniel Handler is still around and putting out stuff as Lemony Snicket, but I miss the mystery of the Beaudelaires’ next adventure and the brilliantly snarky narrator,

  16. I like both! I had Pandemonium come through last month, the second in the Delirim trilogy and now have to wait until February/March next year for the last book. I think that if you know the series is there, then go for it. When I’ve read a full series, it’s been quite by accident. The Hunger Games and Twilight Saga are the most recent examples of this, for me. If I had heard of them, the mentions didn’t stick until I decided to pick them up and, as it happened, the series were finished anyway.

    But oh my, the memories of Harry Potter! Being part of the Harry Potter Generation, there was the wait each year and, in a way, I loved it because – though this certainly doesn’t apply to all series – it meant I really could grow up with the characters in a way.

    Oh and with Terry Pratchett, it’s the Discworld as a whole but the books are (pretty much) standalone. So go for it!

    1. I’ll add another plug for Discworld — they only look scary from the outside. I’d recommend starting with Guards, Guards! because I love the Samuel Vimes books best, but as Juniper said you can jump in anywhere and be just fine. I’ve read the entire series at least four times, straight through from book one to book however-many-we’re-on-now; I’m pretty sure that if you cracked my particular genetic code, you’d find Discworld wrapped around the helixes with Jane Eyre and Calvin and Hobbes.

      1. CALVIN AND HOBBES!! Aw, I love those guys. And that would be some neat DNA.

        But yes, Discworld! I certainly haven’t read all of them but have really enjoyed whichever book I’ve picked up. Pratchett is a brilliant author and so the books do work as standalone books. As an example, I finished Snuff recently, which is a new Discworld book. I hadn’t read any of the other Sam Vines books, but at no point was confused as to what was going on.

      1. They’re a great read but perhaps worth waiting for the last book? I think if I stumbled on an imcomplete series, I’d find it harder, having gained the momentum of reading the first X books one after the other. But whatever you choose, they really are great.

  17. I STILL haven’t read Hunger Games or Wheel of Time. It can be pretty torturous waiting for new books to come out – when I read the Game of Thrones books last summer I was happy to be able to keep picking up the next book. I quite like waiting for a full series and reading it all at once, then doing the same again a year or two later. There’s always the risk of disappointment, too – I was caught up in the wait for the last two or three Harry Potter books and I read all of them, but I felt like compared to the first few they were lacklustre and definitely disappointing.

    I guess it’s always tricky, and I don’t have it all figured out either. But I love books!

    1. Hunger Games! Do it for the book club! It’s an incredibly fast read; you could easily knock out all three in a lazy weekend.

      I love Wheel of Time, but the series really starts to drag toward the middle. And if you thought Game of Thrones had a lot of characters and storylines going on, hoo lordy, there are even more in WoT. If you have a LOT of free time, I’d still recommend them since there’s only one to go and they really are pretty cool.

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