I was ‘playing with my books’ the other day, and came across two novels waiting to be read which both happen to be number six in a series: Adrian Mole & the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend, and the Song of Susannah from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Although it is months and months since I read started reading these books, I do intend to carry on with both of these series, loving reading about King’s gunslinger
Clint Roland, and Townsends’ hapless Adrian Mole. However there are many more series where I’ve given up, and this got me musing about the topic.
Before I go on to talk about examples, first, a brief discussion about what constitutes a series of books? We don’t use the work ‘serial’ much these days – time was, that it denoted a set of books, or TV episodes etc, with a story arc that continued from one episode to another and reaches a conclusion, i.e. actually finishes. A series, however, may have recurring characters, but each episode/book can standalone. Nowadays, we have serials embedded into series (The Killing, 24 etc) which in the TV world are now known as ‘Seasons’, and then we have episodes in series which have a serial story arc running behind them, but can sort of standalone (Dr Who etc). You could argue, of course, that most novels are written as serials, with chapters functioning as episodes, and then you have collections of short stories with recurring characters, i.e. series…
Pedants and semantic experts can look away for a moment. I give up! Distinguishing between them is not worth it, I tend to, rightly or wrongly, call them all series nowadays.
So what is it that causes me to drop interest in a series?
Take Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books: I started reading them when the first couple came out in paperback in the UK in the early 1990s. Post Mortem and Body of Evidence were like nothing else around at the time – crime novels written from a forensic PoV with a lead female professional character. I devoured them, and each successive one until number thirteen, Trace. My Librarything entry says, “Bored by page 100. Same old…” It’s rare for me to give up on a book, but I did on this one; I remember beginning to have that feeling a couple of books before in the series too. At this stage in the series, I’d already been past a major lull around the 8 or 9th novels, followed by ‘a return to form’ in the 10th and 11th, so this new lull was enough for me, and I haven’t read any since. I don’t care that I may have missed out on major developments between characters in the 15th – life’s too short to get back into Kay Scarpetta’s life.
Ultimately though, I never loved Scarpetta herself. She’s so fussy, she’s materialistic and narcissistic, and set in her ways. I always envisaged her as petite but taut, brunette, a bossy Italian mama type in pearls – not the blonde, snappy dresser she is. I never warmed to her genius niece, Lucy, either – even if she is like a gay version of Homeland‘s Carrie. The character I liked was police sergeant Pete Marino, a shambling detective – like Charles Durning in Columbo’s mac.
Another series I’m not sure whether I want to continue with, is Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. I read and adored the first, thoroughly enjoyed the second, but find I’m ambivalent about continuing. Sookie is a truly wonderful character, and vampire Bill is *ahem* very attractive. I know that I’d continue to enjoy the rest as they’re great fun – adult, racy, paranormal crime novels with a sense of humour. I feel that I’ve got their measure though, and can leave the rest for holidays and comfort reading rather than slavishly working my way through all thirteen as there are now. Additionally, I am a bit vamped out these days!
In summary, I think that I’ve proved to myself that for a series of novels to hold my interest there must be, first and foremost, strong, attractive characters but also a continuing and developing story arc. Obviously, this rule only works for those books I’ve discussed – but it’ll do for now.
Which series of novels have you given up on?
What keeps you reading a series of books?