Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do You Read Long Series Before They're Finished?

The following post appeared on Book Riot a couple weeks ago, and drummed up quite the discussion (41 comments!). So I wanted to repost it here, in case you missed it — to get New Dork Review reader opinions as well. What say you?

The No. 1 reason why people won’t read The Song of Ice and Fire series is not because they’re not interested in fantasy novels (which you might expect would be the case). And it’s not because the books are too long, or violent, or offensive to their delicate sensibilities regarding sex. Nope. The No. 1 reason is that folks don’t want to be left hanging, waiting until 2020 (or whenever) for the notoriously slow
George R. R. Martin to finish his series. Readers are friggin’ impatient — and rightly so!

We hate waiting for books, almost than we hate waiting for anything else in the world. And I’m with you — for my entire reading life, I’ve had the same policy: Must wait until finished in order to begin.
But you know what I’ve realized? That that is silly. And you know why? Because at its most fundamental level, it’s just an excuse, a rationalization. And if you really think about it, it’s not a good one.

Let’s take Martin as an example again — even when all seven of those novels are out, if you’ve been waiting until they’re finished, are you really going to sit down and read 7,000 pages of dragons and sword fights back-to-back-to-back? Probably not. Even for shorter series, and even if it’s comforting knowing all are parts are in the world, do you ever really read all parts back-to-back? I sure don’t.

Furthermore, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “You know what, I’m not going to see (insert title of enormous summer blockbuster movie) until all movies in that series are out.” That sounds pretty illogical, right? Why are books different? Because you spend more time with a book? Why should that matter?

And I don’t buy the argument that if you read one in the series now, you won’t remember the characters or what happened in the last book, and it’ll ruin the next book. Easy solution: There’s this magical new invention called the Internet. You can find a summary of the last book there. Or better yet, start your own reading journal so you’ll have your own thoughts on what happened in the last book and the specific themes, character interactions, etc., that resonated with you, personally. My own reading journal is up to 500-single-spaced typed pages now. It may seem a tad OCD, but I can tell you my specific impressions of every book I’ve read since May 2001.

Due to my what-I-now-realize-is-kind-of-silly policy, I own more unread books that are part of unfinished series than you can shake George R.R. Martin’s beard comb at — from Diana Gabaldon to Jeff Shaara to Ken Follett to W.E.B. Griffin. I always stored ‘em up, telling myself I’d read them on that glorious near-future day when the series is finished. I hate waiting for book as much as the next person, but my recent experience of reading A Game of Thrones (as well as, believe it or not, The Hunger Games) has made me realize how much I’m missing out on really good books like, say, Fall of Giants with this illogical personal reading policy. And that’s what’s really got me re-thinking it.

So you know what? It’s officially off the books! It’s a momentous day! And I feel like a weight has been lifted. How liberating!

And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the library to find a copy of The Passage. Cheers!


  1. Good going,Greg! Embrace the series love,you won't regret it(and glad to hear that you're finally planning to read The Passage!)

  2. I think the issue is with this series in particular and the high possibility that the author will die before he finsishes the series.


  3. I, on the other hand, love waiting for books. Oh, the anticipation!

    I'm about to start Game of Thrones myself, and as for Diana Gabaldon, I'm not sure the Outlander series will ever really be done.

  4. Great post! I completely agree with you. I do not like reading books in a series back-to-back. I find that I'm not as excited to pick it up once I'm a couple of books in. I just space them out and when I'm craving the series again I go for the next book. The Game of Thrones is an amazing series. I'm completely hooked - although I've only read two so far. I started number three but decided I needed more time! :)

  5. I think I'm okay with the idea that I'll read all there is for now and have to wait. It's just the idea that to get to that waiting point, there are soooo many pages that have to be read first in some of these series. Martin, Gabaldon - it's not just 700 pages I have to find the time for, it's 3500 pages I have to find the time for and that is just too intimidating for me!

  6. What a great post, Greg! I can understand where you're coming from. And even though I haven't done this with a book series before, I know people who have; and they've become frustrated with how long it takes for the books to be published. However, trying to tell them it's not a good thing to do isn't right, and it's pointless because at times, they won't listen

    There is one series I can't seem to either find the money for or the books to... Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' series. I either don't have the money for all the books when I spot them or I can't find the books I haven't read (which is most of them). So, I'm getting them as they pop up and reading them when I do have the whole collection together (which will probably when I'm in a retirement home!). :P

  7. I'm new here, but enjoying browsing your blog. This post caught my eye, because I recently wrote a review about A Game of Thrones on my blog:

    I think Martin is a particularly sticky case because his novels are just so freaking complicated...and it's hard to keep everything in your head so that you can adjust quickly after waiting so long for the next book. It was already a bit of a learning curve to get comfortable reading A Game of Thrones, and I'm not sure I look forward to that same hump every time I have to wait for the next volume and virtually start over with the characters and intrigues.

  8. I've always wondered (in my head, at least) why I torture myself with unfinished series... but that hasn't ever stopped me from doing it. I'm currently waiting for the last book of the Wheel of Time series (which will be book 14), and I started that series when there were only 9 written. Oh, and Robert Jordan died in the midst of the series, so there was that whole find-a-new-author thing. And, as you know, I'm also reading Martin's series (despite his infuriatingly slow pace in releasing new titles).

    Can't wait to hear what you think of The Passage. And look - the sequel comes out this year so you won't have to wait too long for it!

  9. I totally agree with you Greg! Don't wait for the series to end before you enjoy them! It reminds me of a series I read quite a while back {The Earth's Children Series by Jean M. Auel, a mix of inaccurate historical fiction and smut} There are 6 books in the series that were released between 1980 - 2011. The was a twelve year span between book 4 and 5 and then an eight year gap between book 5 and 6. If I would have read them all in one sitting I would have hated them for their many pages, monotonous prose, and predictability, however, because I read them over 5 years I enjoyed them for what they are. I am even looking forward to the most current edition that is lurking somewhere in my ever growing TBR pile.

    Also, I have always loved looking forward to something. As a kid I loved the days leading up to Christmas much better than I liked the day itself. Last year I read The Passage by Justin Cronin, knowing full well that it was part of a Trilogy. When the book ended {on a cliff hanger no less}, I wasn't disappointed that I couldn't run out and buy the next book. It is giving me something to look forward to this fall!!!!


  10. Oh, yes, I have been hanging on tenterhooks waiting for the next books since I caught up with R.A. Salvatore in his 20+ book Drizzt Do'Urden series. Since his beginning in 1988, Drizzt, a long-lived elf, has seen friends die in battle and of natural causes, has developed many new friendships, some of them most unlikely, and grown to share a grudging respect with some of his deadliest foes. The tales have generated eight spinoff novels that explore what some of these characters went on to do after they left Drizzt's narrative. Salvatore likes to publish in October, which is when I also like to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say that I never feel a moment of frustration. There is only the joyous anticipation of rejoining an old friend after a year of wondering (and speculating!) what he might have gotten up to.

    A bad experience left me with a primal fear, though. As a young man in the 70s, I began to follow another 20+ book series, the Gor Saga by John Norman. The first six books were a rip-snortin' good adventure tale, but beginning with book seven, he turned it into an anti-feminist screed that would curdle milk in a glass. It became like reading the text of a college lecture about the evils of womens' rights. He would literally interrupt his own description of the flight of an arrow to explain why only a superior male archer could have made this shot (He must have had a run-in with Gloria Steinham around then that sent him in this new vindictive direction). Drivel! But I hold faith in Salvatore; if he were going to ruin Drizzt, he would have by now, I think.

    But, returning to your original question, no, it doesn't put me off a bit. In the case of Drizzt, I'm beginning to think that series may only end with Salvatore's death, and if I wait, and I die first (which is a great likelihood, given our ages) then look at all I've missed. All I can say is, if you're on the fence about this, quit fooling around; get out there and start enjoying some wonderful literature before it's too late!