Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weekly Poll 2/10/10: Books as Series

The poll question from this past week was this:


Memorable characters.
A storyline that spans all the books in the series and keeps you hooked.
Fresh, new storylines for each book (so that any one book in the series could be a stand-alone book).
Good writing.

Of the five answers offered, only two were selected during the voting: "memorable characters" and "a storyline that spans all the books in the series and keeps you hooked."  There was a 50/50 split for these answers, so I'm viewing them as being equally important to my readers.  If I had been forced to vote for just one answer, I would have chosen the second--I like being able to follow a single storyline throughout an entire series of books.

What's interesting, though, is that in my earlier reading days, I preferred reading series that had new storlyines for each new book: My expectations for series has changed as I’ve grown as a reader.  The first series I came to know and love were all series that featured the same characters, but each book was a stand-alone book.  You could read book #5 before reading book #2, and it didn’t matter.  In fact, in one series, the first book I read was #43.  Because the series of my young reading days often had a lot of books in them, I could pick and choose which ones had plots I was most interested in—I didn’t have to read/buy all of them.

As I’ve grown, though, I now prefer series that have a singly story line that arcs the entire series, which means the series won’t have 40 books in it.  Some of my favorite series are Harry Potter (by J.K. Rowling), Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer), Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (by Ann Brashares), North and South (by John Jakes), Tea Rose books (by Jennifer Donnelly), and Book of Swords (by Fred Saberhagen).  Those are a diverse group of series, yet they all share the fact that there is a single story that is followed throughout the individual books.  They also share the fact that they have characters I found interesting on some level--characters are paramount for series since readers have to want to stick with those same characters for more than just a single book.

J.K. Rowling's wildly successful series: Harry Potter

I wondered if this reflection was something other readers share with me or if it was simply my own preference.  There are quite a few series for grown-up readers that feature stand-alone books (e.g., Dennis Lehane's Angie and Patrick series, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books), and while I enjoy those, I don’t run out and buy the whole series.  I borrow them.  I enjoy them, and I wait until another one with a plot that grabs my attention comes out.  If I don't like one of the books in series like these, I'm more likely to never pick up another one; however, if I don't like one of the books in a series featuring a single storyline, I'm more likely to keep reading the series just to see if it gets better or to find out how the whole thing ends.

Part of my love for series that have a single storyline is that I can, as a reader, get more involved in these characters’ lives.  When a single story takes four or seven books to complete, I not only have all those books with the characters, I get to watch them grow over the books, and their growth is related to this larger situation, which is why I get more drawn in, and which, in turn, makes me want to own the whole series, even if one of the books wasn’t necessarily my favorite.

Beautiful screenshot from Jennifer Donnelly's website

No one chose "good writing" as their answer to the question for the week, and after reviewing my list of favorite series, I'd have to say that I let good writing slide when getting hooked on series.  The biggest example of these is Twilight.  I got so engrossed in the books that I read the entire series in a weekend, yet if you asked me to sit down and critique the writing style of the books, I'd cringe on nearly every page.  I find that interesting, considering that I have to devote more time to reading series (because there is more book than one), yet if the story and characters are enough to draw me in, I am better able to ignore the "writing sins" of the author.

Once I find a series I like, I can read from the first to the last book over and over again, never getting tired of them.  Well-done series can result in major accolades from the reading world, yet series can be dangerous things.  Sometimes I find myself reading just because I liked the first book and not because I’m actually enjoying the second or third…  Lags can be forgiven, if overall, the entire series is a good one, but if a series has more than just one or two lags, I lose my interest entirely.  I’ve been reading Inkspell (the second book of the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke) for nearly a year now.  I’m determined to finish it because I really do like the story, but the book has simply lost my interest--I can’t even explain why.  On the other hand, I made it through all three Gemma Doyle books (by Libba Bray), only to be disappointed by the ending.  Now I'm not even interested in reading any more books by authors whose books I could potentially enjoy because of the disappointment from their series.

What series do you enjoy reading, and why?

Happy reading!

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