Different Approaches to Reading Sequels

When we finish a great novel that’s part of a series or has sequels, it’s a wonderful feeling to know there’s more to come. But how to go about it? Do we focus on those books for weeks or months on end, ignoring the work of other authors? Or do we read the next installments sporadically over a longer period of time while mixing in different writers?

There’s no right answer, of course — it’s whatever the individual reader prefers. And if the next installment hasn’t been written/published yet, obviously fiction fans will read other authors as they eagerly await a serial saga’s continuation.

The pros and cons of each approach? If one reads a series or sequels while ignoring novels by different writers, one can achieve wonderful immersion and momentum, really get to know the characters, more easily remember foreshadowing from previous books, and pick up other kinds of nuances. On the negative side, a bit of sameness can set in. And think of all the literary variety temporarily being missed!

My most memorable experience with both approaches involved J.K. Rowling’s stellar Harry Potter series. Starting in the late 1990s, I waited each year or so for the next installment. A painful wait, but there were plenty of months to read other authors. Then, several years after the seventh and last of the Potter novels was published, I went back and reread them one after another — with no non-Potter book in between. It was a terrific experience, partly for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I also consecutively read James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels (The Last of the Mohicans, etc.). I don’t care that Mark Twain hated those books; I liked them a lot.

And of course when you have a compelling trilogy, you might as well read all three books in a row — as I did with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and its two sequels, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (For me, there was a gap between reading Tolkien’s trilogy and an earlier reading of The Hobbit prequel.)

Recently, it was Martin Cruz Smith’s work that had me wrestling with how to go about reading sequels. I liked his Gorky Park so much last month that I quickly borrowed the first two sequels from the library. Polar Star (claustrophobically set on a fishing ship) was almost as good, as was Red Square. But I did manage to squeeze another author’s book — Philippa Gregory’s very good historical novel Earthly Joys — between Gorky Park and Polar Star. Which made me want to read the Earthly Joys sequel Virgin Earth. 🙂 But when I visited my local library this past Friday, Virgin Earth wasn’t there, so I borrowed the five other Gorky Park sequels! (Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, and Tatiana.)

Other times, months or even years go by before I get to the next installment. That was the case with John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday.

Or it can be a little of both approaches. For instance, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and its first three sequels consecutively, and then later got back to the other sequels.

There’s also the case of reading some sequels but not all of them. I enjoyed Walter Mosley’s first two Easy Rawlins mysteries and Sue Grafton’s first four Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries, but not quite enough to immediately continue with more. But I might get back to them!

And how about reading a series mostly out of order? I’ve done that with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, partly because some of the books were at my local library only some of the time.

How do you read series and sequels?

Because of some travel, I will not be posting columns March 25 and April 1. I look forward to returning with a new piece on April 8! I’ll still respond when I can to any comments under already-published columns.

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about topics such as a mayor’s interference in the search for a schools superintendent — is here.

77 thoughts on “Different Approaches to Reading Sequels

  1. Happy Birthday, Dave! I hope you and your family are having a blast travelling through Paris. Though I must admit, we’ve missed you around here.

    Many years ago I started reading Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. It’s 14 books, and I think they’re all around 1,000 pages. No way was I ever going to read them consecutively! I’m about halfway through the fourth novel, and I’m pretty sure the only reason that I’m going to finish the series is because I”m really, really stubborn 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the birthday wishes and kind words, Susan!

      I’m looking forward to posting a new column on April 8. It will be at least partly about my visit yesterday to the Pantheon — where Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Emile Zola, and Voltaire are among those buried.

      Wow — the “Wheel of Time” series sounds “In Search of Lost Time”-like in length! An impressive feat to be reading it (not to mention Robert Jordan’s accomplishment in writing it).

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great cartoon and quote, bebe, and, as you say, VERY relevant to today.

      (The cartoonist, Milt Priggee, used to work in Ohio — for a now-defunct Dayton newspaper, if I’m remembering right.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Dave,

    When I was about 11 or 12, my mum had the first three “Kent Chronicles” books in an omnibus. Through the years, I must have read that omnibus 3 or 4 times, before finally getting to the other books in John Jakes’ series. Which I guess is why I remember the first books fairly clearly, but can’t remember much that happens after that.

    My experience with Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, was kind of similar, as the first three books had been published when I started reading them, and then it would be a few years until the next book came out, when I’d have to re-read the existing books again.

    “Harry Potter” is one of the few series that I’ve read out of order. I didn’t have much interest in the books, but saw the first movie when it came out. Then I tried to get into the books and read the first 2 or 3, and maybe saw a movie or two. Then just before the final book was released I got swept up in all the hype. I think I got through the fourth book, but had to skip five and six until after I’d read seven. I’ve since read all of the books in the right order, as well as seeing all the movies, and of course they’re all brilliant. As is “The Casual Vacancy”, but that’s going a bit off topic.

    I’ve read the first “Millennium” book, and enjoyed it, but not quite enough to rush into the sequels. I did the opposite with “The Hunger Games”, I’ve read the last one, but not the first two (I saw the first two film adaptations and just had to know how it ended!).

    Speaking of YA books, I accidentally got a bit addicted to the “Twilight” series. I read the first book and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. So much so that I had to drive about 30kms the night that I finished it so that I could get the second one. I decided to buy all four sequels that night so that I wouldn’t be caught out again. I’m not sure why I enjoyed them so much, but I do have fond memories of devouring those books one after another.

    I was lucky enough to avoid the “Song of Ice and Fire” books until recently, meaning that I could get through all five books quite quickly. Of course it’s going to take some time to get to the sixth and seventh, as Martin has been promising them for years, but not quite delivering. I think he’s been distracted by some show called “Game of Thrones”. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Sue, for relating your interesting and varied experiences reading trilogies, series, and sequels!

      I haven’t tried the “Twilight” books, but it’s nice to do “guilty pleasure” reading once in a while. I can understand driving a long way for certain novels. 🙂

      Very funny ending to your comment! I guess one can’t blame George R.R. Martin for being slow with adding to his “Song of Ice and Fire” series. As you note, a rather busy man.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll try to post this again:
    Hi Dave, I’ve been quite busy with all the moving stuff like getting a loan preapproval, packing things up in anticipation of a move, taking my dogs to a boarder to keep them while the photographer comes to take photos today; next Sunday is the Open House (we’ll also have to bring the dogs back to the boarder or somewhere for two days) during that weekend. This is not fun! Then If I sell this house, it’s on to finding one in the Poconos.

    As to reading series of books, I usually stay with the series such as Harry Potter, the Stieg Larsson books, in order if possible. One thing I found out about the books from some Scandinavian authors, is that sometimes they will not be issued consecutively from abroad, but it usually doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Years ago I read the Sjöwall and Wahlöö series of Martin Beck. As Wiki says, “Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish police detective who is the main character in a series of ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively titled The Story of a Crime.” I think I read these back in the early ’70s, but I read again in the ’90’s when they were reissued in trade paperback, this time in order (most of my books are packed for moving so I can’t keep track of the timing). So this was one series I read both in non-order (is that even a word?) and in order probably at least 20 to 30 years after first published. The same thing with the Ross MacDonald (Lew Archer) novels that took place in southern California years ago. It is really refreshing to read such series in the order in which they were written.

    To end this, I’ll say I had a great time reading the novels by Alfred Payson Terhune of his beloved collie dogs, and I read them, I doubt in any order, I think, from Lad, Bruce, Wolf and Gray Dawn. These were his most famous books that my girlfriend and I read as we were growing up and that led us into thinking that we too could have a collie farm someday! That obviously never happened, but my girlfriend has adopted several Shetland Collies — the one who was probably her most favorite she named Peppermint Patty, which I think is one of the greatest dog names ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Kat Lib — you are BUSY. 😦 And life is even harder with the necessity of boarding the dogs at times. I’m sure you can’t wait until the whole moving thing is over and you’re settled in the Poconos!

      A shame when books in a series are not issued consecutively from abroad. But I guess really skillful authors can make each novel in a series stand alone, at least to some extent. For instance, when I read Louise Penny on your recommendation, I thoroughly enjoyed “How the Light Gets In” even though I didn’t read earlier books starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

      Few authors write about dogs like Alfred Payson Terhune did! I can see him inspiring people to get dogs, open a collie farm, etc.! Peppermint Patty IS a great dog name. 🙂

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      • Yep, it is nice, to a point, that “really skillful authors can make each novel in a series stand alone”, but perhaps it would be nicer sometimes to see an author trust in the actual constituents of his readership, and after book 4 or 5 of a series, assume that most who read books 6 and on are familiar with some of the telling characterizations of major recurring characters, some of the recurring settings, etc.

        I am currently in the throes of a binge, reading the second dozen or so Hamish Macbeth mysteries by MC Beaton. I would never classify these mystery novels as literature, but they are neatly and skillfully done throughout, and I am grateful for the distraction and entertainment they offer. They’re a sort of Granada TV midline mystery series, only in print. But Beaton seems driven to repeat herself in the cause of making each novel in the series stand on its own, and, after many of her books under my belt, I find some of the repetitions repetitive, in that she says the same things in several books several times over and is thereby, redundant.

        But I will see her through to the last ditch on the last day: I’ve bought every Hamish Macbeth mystery there is save the latest, and soon that too will be in my grasp. Beats thinking, beats the news, beats thinking about the news…but I devoutly wish the author could imagine her devoted readers with having at least the remains a memory where Hamish et al are concerned.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I love the Hamish Macbeth stories, but I totally agree–it’s irritating when an author gives the same background over and over again in a series. If I read a series I don’t need or even want each book to be a standalone. I want it to work as part of a series.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You both make excellent points, jhNY and Elena. I think a bit of sum-up and backstory is okay in each book of a series, but it can be overdone — as you both noted. I’ve read some series out of order, and was able to get the gist of, and enjoy, a specific novel without knowing much of what went before.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Dave, there’s something so right about reading series in order, as well as writing them in order if possible. With some authors it doesn’t really matter, Agatha Christie novels sound pretty much the same whether they are from 1930 or 1960 or elsewhere. Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter books cover the gamut of books in London, the family estate, a fishing resort in Scotland, the Ringing of the Bells in a small English village; etc. From Wiki “Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of First World War veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women’s education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night.” One of many reasons I love her so much. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you and the commenters this.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Thank you, Kat Lib!

                There are definitely advantages to consecutively reading and consecutively writing novels that are part of a series. Interestingly, James Fenimore Cooper was one author who didn’t do that — his five “Leatherstocking” novels were not written chronologically based on the Natty protagonist’s age. For instance, Natty is youngest in “The Deerslayer,” but that book was not written before the other four.

                Yes, Dorothy L. Sayers said a LOT in her novels — about the characters, social issues, etc.!

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              • I sometimes like when a story is told in a not strictly linear way. Anne Rice’s first novel focused on the 200 year old Louis. He seems pretty old until subsequent novels that go back further and further in time until Louis becomes the baby of the group.

                “The Luminaries” kind of starts at the end and ends with the beginning, and “Cloud Atlas” starts AND finishes at the beginning, with the end being somewhere in the middle.

                I know the last two novels aren’t series, but they are kind of a series of stories, so they almost fit…

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thank you, Sue! It’s true that some series take a sort of prequel route after they begin. The Jack Reacher saga does that with several books, too.

                  I like linear as well as nonlinear approaches — if they’re done well, of course. 🙂

                  And, yes, some stand-alone novels are almost series-like in of themselves, and can be very nonlinear — such as the mentioned-by-you “The Luminaries,” which I’m very glad you recommended a couple of years ago! In the play realm, one famous non-chronological example is Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” which starts at the end of an affair and works its way back to the beginning of that romantic liaison.

                  Like

  4. Dave I have not read any of Harry Potter series, but have read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels.
    The first one ” The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo”, of It is the first book of the Millennium series after 50 pages I found so boring I returned the book to the library.
    Then a patron convinced me to read it and so I did, then I thought the story would never end.
    But the unfortunate death of Mr. Larsson ended our wish. His partner wrote something, also another writer but those were not worth trying.
    Wish there is a Lisbeth Salander in real life who will not be afraid to put you know who where he belongs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! I agree that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy started a bit slow but wow did it pick up. One of the most riveting three novels I’ve ever read.

      So sad Larsson died so young. Like you, I have no interest in reading the other “sequels” by a different author.

      The amazing Lisbeth Salander taking on Trump! LOVE that idea. Trump and his minions wouldn’t stand a chance!

      Liked by 1 person

      • John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. director who now refers to himself as “a nonpartisan American who is very concerned about our collective future,” attacked the president’s character on Saturday.

        “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” wrote Mr. Brennan, whom Mr. Trump once called “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” “You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dave, saw a book at the library ” a girl who Takes an eye for an eye”, David Lagercrantz , evidently this is his second book saying a Lisbeth Salanders Novel. Yes I borrowed it but not sure if I want to read that.
        Do not want to be disappointed.

        Again John Grisham`s Camini Island is back being number two in
        Combined Print & E-Book Fiction, after may weeks . I loved the book

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, bebe! I’m also not keen on reading any Millennium Trilogy sequels not written by the late Stieg Larsson. Those amazing characters — Lisbeth Salander and others — were his creation. And I can’t imagine any writer being as skillful and page-turning as Larsson with those characters and various plot elements.

          I hope to eventually read more John Grisham. I’ve read three of his novels after you and others recommended him, and he is great at what he does!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d say I almost always read them piece by piece with other books in between. I’ve often thought of going back and reading some bunched together like you did with Harry Potter. I feel like especially in that case, you’d pick up on so much more reading them back-to-back. This post was a great read for me, since I’m writing a series of three books! It gave me some good perspective. The books could each stand alone if necessary, but I definitely planted things in the first book that pave the way for the subsequent ones. Happy travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • M.B., you’re living the series life as well as reading series! Good luck with finishing your trilogy. 🙂 Having each book be able to stand alone while being tied together sounds like the best of both worlds.

      Reading related books with other books in between definitely has its variety advantages. But in the case of my second/consecutive reading of the “Harry Potter” novels, I picked up so many nuances I hadn’t noticed when previously reading them a year or so apart.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wrote about this before on the site I think, so forgive me– but I read Raymond Chandler novels and interspersed them with Ross MacDonald novels, on the advice of an English professor pal who knew, as an avid reader, both authors well. It was an arrangement advantageous to the impression both authors made– every other book, Chandler seemed to be off his game a little, but not a lot,or MacDonald seemed a little better than I remembered…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like that approach, jhNY! Might not work with certain novelist pairs, but definitely works with others. I could see Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy, Henry James/Edith Wharton, Margaret Atwood/Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Wright/James Baldwin, some combination of Poe/H.P. Lovecraft/Stephen King, etc.!

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        • Your ideas for similar pairings look attractive– I would add O’Hara and Paul Bowles might be profitably read between F. Scott Fitgerald’s things, but I admit that it’s not the way I approached them to date. I do have however, a new (to me) collection of Bowles stories ahead of me, and I could always read Babylon Revisited again.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I read Maya Angelou’s beautiful first book in a series of 7 autobiographical reads starting with “I Do Not Know Why The Cage Bird Sings” then her second installation “Gather Together In My Name.” I have taken a break of a year or so, but I do plan to read the others as they are engaging, beautiful stories like Maya Angelou herself, such important life lessons, such strength and perseverance. The third has such a effervescent title “Singing and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas.” I do plan to read this title and the others in coming years, for sure or maybe consecutively in shorter order as they are autobiographical of an exemplary life of an exemplary woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! I’ve only read the first book of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series, but I can imagine how great the rest of the books are from that. The memorable first book is definitely a mix of memoir and novelistic techniques. And the third book’s title is indeed wonderful!

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  7. I have had periods of time where I read one author’s books in succession, like when I got into James Lee Burke novels about Dave Robichaux and Jan Karon’s lovely Mitford series, to name a couple of examples. I enjoyed the immersion, the setting and felt like I was visiting friends each time I picked up the next book. These days its hard for me to get through one novel, let alone a series, as I’ve gone through a long spell of reading nonfiction. I’m getting my toe back into the fiction waters little by little and who knows? I might read the entire Harry Potter series. My son retreads this series about once/year and loves it more each time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I used to be kind of obsessively orderly about my reading and would try to read series in order, together.

    For various reasons I gave gotten out of that habit, but one of the first and most entertaining things that pushed me out if it was moving to Russia shortly after the collapse of the USSR and not having ready access to a lot of English language books. Every few months we would take the long trek to Moscow and make a visit to the one English language bookstore, where I would grab whatever they happened to have in stock. This is why I ended up reading the Discworld novels out of order, which was probably a good thing, as I think their quality improved significantly after the first couple.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I had a similar experience with the HP series. When part three came out I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and got the first part. I thoroughly enjoyed it and immediately after read parts two and three. And after that eagerly waited each year for the latest HP 😄

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I can’t think of a series where I’ve read the books one after the other. I guess I’m a reader who likes variety. But there are plenty of series where I’ve read all the books eventually. For example, Luke McCallin’s terrific Gregory Reinhardt novels that start with The Man From Berlin. I guess there’s a whole other article to be written about reading books in a series out of order! I’ve just read Killed by Thomas Enger for a blog tour. It’s the final book in a five book series. I hadn’t read any of the earlier ones and I’m not sure how I would get on with reading them now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whatever works for an individual reader sounds good to me, Cathy! And of course it partly depends on the length of a series; for instance, if someone decided to read Sue Grafton’s 25 alphabet mysteries in a row, that would be…obsessive, or something. 🙂 But not obsessive at all if, like you with various series, the books were all read eventually.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you, Becky! Yes, reading a good or great series or bunch of sequels is indeed sort of like binge watching — not always a bad thing! 🙂

      Given that most of the novels I read come from the library (my apartment is too packed to keep adding bought books 🙂 ), I’m also sometimes forced to read series and sequels out of order. Availability, as you note…

      Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I feel like I’m witnessing a moment between you two that is usually reserved for one’s therapist. Hahaha! I have only read one Harry Potter book, too! No I feel better for having confessed it. I liked it but just didn’t have the motivation to continue on. I feel mildly guilty about it.

        Liked by 1 person

              • Ha, Dave! My sister was very friendly with the owner of a nearby children’s bookstore, and got from her the first 4 of the HP books, first editions and signed by J.K. Rowling. The irony is that she didn’t even like the books and I’m not sure she read all of them, or any of them for that matter. Unfortunately (for me), one of my sister’s sons put dibs on them, I think from a purely monetary motive. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • Signed first editions of “Harry Potter” books? Wow! Millions of people would LOVE to have those, and not just for the monetary value. (I’d never sell them. 🙂 ) A shame they were given to non-“HP” fans.

                  Have you gotten any snow yet? I managed to squeeze in a long walk early this morning, and now the white stuff is coming down hard. Spring…

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  11. So impressed with your range of reading interest. I don’t know any men who read Philippa Gregory… many of her novels, which her publisher lists as series books, are connected more by historical overlap than plot, which doesn’t make them any less thrilling. I’ve enjoyed the early Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon) novels in the order they were written, though I did not necessarily read them one after the other without breaks. A fun post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sharol! I appreciate that. 🙂

      “Earthly Joys” was the first Philippa Gregory novel I read (on the recommendation of frequent commenter Reba Harrington), and I was very impressed. Interesting that a number of Gregory’s novels have more of a history connection than a plot connection, as you noted.

      I really enjoy your China-themed blog! (Which people can see by clicking on your name.)

      Like

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