Saturday, October 8, 2011

Series - the Good, the Bad, the Undead

I just finished Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novelby Charlaine Harris, which is book #1 of the Sookie Stackhouse, made even more popular by the HBO series based on the book series: True Blood.

I thought about basically copying my GoodReads review into this space, but I'm trying to make this blog about more than just single book reviews.  So I thought I would reflect a little about series in general - what I like and what I don't.

When I was younger, I read series all the time, probably more than anything else.  My Mom sells Christian books to libraries, and the series I remember the most vividly is The Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leppard.  They could be seen as a pre-cursor to Nancy Drew, a young girl detective, with the added interest of being set in the 19th century, and Mandie's father is pure Cherokee.  (Wow, I just looked these up for the first time in years and years, only to find that the author went to the university where I work.  How is that for a connection?)

One summer my Mom brought home an entire run of the old Bobbsey Twins mysteries, the ones with the light purple cover.  I must have read each one three times.  My favorite was The Bobbsey Twins and the Secret of Candy Castle because of this one scene where a closet turns out to be a secret elevator, and I spent hours that summer trying to find the button in my bedroom closet.

I remember reading The Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, you name it.  Maybe part of my problem with series as an adult is that I associate them so heavily with childhood.  I can't think of a single series that is what I would call "serious," in fact most belong to the "beach reading" genre.  I have to admit to not really understanding this genre. (I read Gravity's Rainbow on vacation once.   Does that make it a beach read?)  

In my adult reading life, the only series I can say I read all of is Harry Potter.  Of course, these are children's books too, right?   I read the first book of a lot of series.  I thought I'd like The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, until I realized in book 3 that the author was intentionally sending all his characters off on quests with no real action until the end, just in time to create a cliffhanger to make me buy the next book.  I caught on and was not amused.  Most of the time, if you don't like the characters or the story in the first book of a series, you might as well skip the rest, because the whole point seems to be to capitalize on what made the first one successful.

Assuming that philosophy is true, I would imagine the rest of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are full of naive Sookie trying to navigate a new world of vampire's girlfriend etiquette, life-threatening drama, and how to use her mind-reading abilities, with a good dose of gratuitous sex and violence thrown in for good measure.  I think a lot of readers like that predictability, with enough action to make you think you've gone somewhere, not really realizing that the author is actually limiting what is going on so she can squeeze out another 10-15 books in the series before the story is over.  I guess I'd rather read a long, well-developed, self-contained novel.  To me, that is just more satisfying.

One more side note before I go - the Sookie Stackhouse books are often classified into the sub-genre of urban fantasy, but these are set in a small southern town.  I'll go along with the masses and reign in my impulse to reclassify everything.


  1. How many books makes a series? Is The Lord of the Rings a series? I think not. Maybe if you include The Hobbit and The Silmarillion with The Lord of the Rings then you might have a series. Is "A Song of Ice and Fire" a series? It seems to me that it's just one story split into... what? seven books? I think I'll define a "series" as a group of four or more books in which each book tells a complete story with little-to-no narrative connection to each other besides employing the same characters and/or settings. For many series, the order you read the books doesn't matter or it matters very little. Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books have no clear defined reading order, for example. Tad Williams' Otherland is comprised of four books, but it's really one story split into four pieces. Each Sookie Stackhouse book is a different story, I think, so they're clearly as a series. The "Harry Potter" books are in some grey area, I think, since there's this overarching plot of Voldemort and Harry, but each book tells a complete tale, but there's a clear preferred order you should read the "Harry Potter" books in. In any case, I think it classifies as a series for the most part.

    Using my definition, the only series I've read in recent years is Gene Wolfe's "Solar Cycle" (The Book of the New Sun, The Urth of the New Sun, The Book of the Long Sun, and The Book of the Short Sun), and even that's kind of debatable. They really should be read in that order, but I hear from people who read them out of order all the time. They don't have a central character, but they take place in a shared universe and some characters overlap some but not all of the books in a series. I'm not sure Wolfe considers them a series. The "Solar Cycle" is a fan term, not Wolfe's.

    As a child, I read all twentysome books in the "The Black Stallion" series by Walter Farley. That's pretty much the only series of books I read as a kid. Well, actually, I did read some of the "Narnia" books, too. But I never got into "The Hardy Boys" or "Nancy Drew" or any of those. As a teenager and quasi-adult, I read almost all of Heinlein's "Future History" books and most of Asimov's "Robots"/"Galactic Empire"/"Foundation" series of books. Oh, and how could I (almost) forget Frank Herbert's "Dune" et al. and "The Hitchhiker's Guide" books?!

  2. Ah, The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High! I loved both! I also loved Sweet Valley Kids and Sweet Valley Teens :D

    I like the Sookie Stackhouse novels. They are fun, easy going light reads that entertain and don't ask for too much in return. I am up to about number 6 or 7 now, I've been reading them on and off since Jan.

    Aside from Harry Potter which I love as well, I've also read The Northern Lights trilogy in adult life and I started Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series Wheel of Time. I gave it my best shot but unfortunately ran out of steam by about book 8.

    I do think series are much more common now, especially in YA. Maybe they make more money for the publishers?

  3. Ed - I'm like you, I tend to give sets of three a pass, and I don't count them as series.

    Sam - I can imagine myself picking up another Sookie book for kicks now and then, I just don't feel any sense of urgency to find out what happens next.


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