Series fatigue … what makes you stop reading?

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?
Do share…

0 thoughts on “Series fatigue … what makes you stop reading?

  1. Lisa says:

    There are some series I was initially so excited to discover that I raced through them, though in the back of my mind there were quibbles, questions, issues – which later, on reflection, when my initial obsession faded a bit, made me realize that the books weren’t as good as I’d thought. There have also been series that started out with a clever idea, which the author has stretched out over too many books, so that the later books (to my mind) become thin and rather cookie-cutter-ish.

  2. gaskella says:

    I wish I had the time to race through some series a bit more. The most I’ve ever read in one go was four Adrian Moles in a couple of weeks, but they are so light. One a month, I can manage (sometimes), but only for a few – then I always need a break.

    I like your cookie-cutter-ish analogy – that’s how I feel about the Lemony Snicket books – the style definitely wore thin after half a dozen.

  3. Alex says:

    I didn’t get as far as that in the Scarpetta series. I couldn’t cope with how miserable she’d become. What makes a series work for me is when you can see the author growing as a writer with each book. Ian Rankin comes to mind. He just gets better with each novel.

    • gaskella says:

      Alex – Rebus is another series I’ve stalled on after the first two. (ditto Wallander). Maybe it’s the telly exposure that I feel less of a need to read the books…

      • Alex says:

        I’ve had the same trouble with Wallander, but I don’t think you’ve got far enough with Rebus – it’s round about book eight that they really take off.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I first got serious series fatigue with the Terry Pratchett Discworld books – I read loads of these when I was younger but got to the point where I couldn’t be bothered to pick up another. The same thing happened with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. I’m not sure if it’s me or if it’s the author – maybe we expect too much from a writer doing a successful series and they lose interest a little and so do we. Having said that, I’ve read every Agatha Christie and never lost interest in Poirot and Marple. Likewise the Martin Beck series by Sjöwall and Wahlöö which I loved. I did find that Wallander palled a little bit, but I think possibly the problem with modern books is that they need to be constantly moving their characters’ lives along – Poirot and Marple stay pretty much the same, despite their surroundings changing. Frankly, I think the more I read, the more I want something new or different with the next book – and a series by nature is not necessarily going to give me that.

    • gaskella says:

      Ditto Discworld! I’ve only read two of the Stephanie Plum books too (I do seem to get stuck at two with many series).

      I like your point about Poirot and Marple who don’t change – this makes each story reassuringly different yet the same – and you can dip into any one without reading them in order, essential for comfort reading don’t you think?

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