I think I’ve mentioned that my husband and I have different philosophies on reading series—I tend to prefer internal chronological order, and he tends to prefer publication order. There’s another difference in our approach to series. I want to read all of a series at once, plunging right in to that world. My posts about the Aubrey-Maturin books appeared here every Monday for months, but I actually read all twenty books in about three weeks of non-stop O’Brian immersion. You can probably tell that I do this if you read my posts regularly, because there’ll be a burst of posts about a series from time to time—all the Miles books, or all the Vlad books.
What Emmet likes to do though is to read, or re-read, a series slowly, interspersed with other things. He’ll sometimes be in the middle of slow re-reads of several series, where he’ll pick up the next book as much as a month afterwards. When he reads book 2 directly after book 1, it’s something to take notice of. You’d think I’d be used to this, but while I do now know about it I still find it really strange that he doesn’t want to keep breathing the same air.
And then I discovered that there are people who stop reading a book in the middle and read something else. I don’t mean because it’s a great big hardback and they don’t want to carry it with all the shopping they’ll be carrying so they take F&SF out with them to read on the metro—I sometimes do that. It’s generally a magazine with short stories I take in that situation, but I do understand the usefulness of it even if I can’t always bring myself to do it if the heavy hardback is particularly compelling. I also don’t mean that they start reading something else if they leave the book they are reading at home, or locked into somebody else’s car. That’s perfectly normal.
I also don’t mean the thing where somebody is bored with a book and they read something else while deciding whether to make the effort to finish it. I occasionally do this—not very often, but it has happened. Or there is the related thing where you’re reading book A which is something merely okay and book B which is something wonderful and awaited arrives at the library (or in the post) and you have to read book B now now now now now! I have done this two or three times over the last thirty years, but it takes a particular combination of A and B. If book A is actually a pretty good book, I’ll usually finish it first.
Nor do I mean the thing where you’re reading one book slowly for research while reading fiction fast at the same time—like a while ago I was reading Vienna 1814 at breakfast, a couple of chapters a day for a month or so. It’s a great book—gossip about the Congress of Vienna—but there was only so much of it I could take at once.
No, I’m talking about fiction reading done entirely for pleasure, and I’m talking about what Emmet does with series, except with individual books. In a situation where nothing prevents someone from carrying on with the book they’re reading except their own whimsy, but they put it down on a whim and pick up something else and read that instead—or read part of that. I heard of a case recently where somebody had half a dozen books unfinished on their nightstand—and they had enjoyed as much as they had read of all of them.
Now I know—it’s Ugol’s law—that you can never say “Does anyone else do this?” There might be nobody who reads with a pineapple on their head, but if even one person does it, then there are always lots of people who do it. So my question is addressed to those of you who do this strange thing: if you do this, why do you?
I’d really like to understand.
My feeling is that once I’m immersed in a world and characters and plot and the author’s style, I don’t want to get used to a whole new set of those things and then switch back to the first lot. It gives me whiplash. Even at end-of-book natural breakpoints, if I’m enjoying the series I’d rather read the next one than anything else.
So what is it that makes you enjoy this reckless chopping and changing? Why doesn’t the desire to find out what happens, or (in the case of re-reading) follow the road along to its ending, keep you reading the first book until it’s done, and then pick up the second book in an orderly fashion? And having immersed yourself in the airs and style of one writer and accustomed yourself to their mode and pacing, why do you want to keep switching atmosphere? (I keep thinking of this in terms of going from breathing oxygen to chlorine...) There must be some benefit to it, but I don’t understand what it is.
Enlighten me, please?
And those of you who do it with series, I’m interested in your thoughts on this too.
Photo of woman reading books by Rachel Sian used under Creative Commons license
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.