Not Enough Life for Too Many Book Series

It seems that lately every time I pick up a book I get mired in a book series—this has happened inadvertently with the last two books I’ve stumbled upon. I finished Camille Läckberg’s The Stonecutter last week, a very satisfying mystery, but when I later went to look up background information on Läckberg, I found out that The Stonecutter is a book midway through her Fjällbacka series. I put the first two series books on hold at the Brooklyn Public Library, but I know it’s wishful thinking believing that I’ll get to these novels before their due dates. On my bedroom floor is the new Jo Nesbø book from the Harry Hole series to review, the first of the George R.R. Martin series, and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, a book I just picked up that I discovered is the first part of a series.

I’m not surprised by detective series; this is part of a long-standing tradition started by the originators of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. And even Arthur Conan Doyle got sick of his Sherlock Holmes character and tried to kill him off, but his readers wouldn’t let him. I am weary of seeing this trend in other things that I’m reading, though. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a young-adult coven novel that I’m about one hundred pages into, and I just found out that it’s a series book from the friend who gave it to me. Instead of joyously ripping through the book as I had at the start, I find myself going through the pages more slowly and evaluating the characters. Do I like them enough? Am I willing to commit myself to these people for nine hundred-plus pages?

Writers seem to be going more toward series for monetary reasons and to guarantee book contracts. I went to see British writer Glen Duncan read from his book Talulla Rising about a female werewolf, of which there are far too few stories, in my opinion. While sitting there listening, I discovered that Talulla Rising is second in a werewolf trilogy, and I’m leery of picking up the second book without having read the first, afraid I’ll have missed important parts of the story. When Duncan was asked whether he intended for his first werewolf book The Last Werewolf to be part of a series, he said, “I just wrote the book in the hope that somebody would pick it up. I told my agent at the time to pitch it as a trilogy, because well, if somebody was going to be dumb enough to buy one…” He meant this jokingly, but I really think the book industry is pushing this following the popularity of the Harry Potter series and others, hoping that lightning will strike two or five or eighteen more times.

Once Duncan’s trilogy pitch was accepted, he said, “I had not mapped out books two and three really in any way…after I finished the first book. That was sort of hastily scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet when the publisher got around to asking what this trilogy was going to be. I had the sense that it could be a trilogy, but it wasn’t until I actually made a deal, a three-book contract, that I kind of sat down in a sense of shock and thought, Oh right, now I have to write two more of these.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to you, Talulla Rising. I can handle a comic book series where the reading time is far shorter, and a movie that is part of a series is usually only a two- or three-hour time commitment. I can do a few TV series, but I have to be choosy with those. I don’t like to follow more than two or three series at a time. A book, though, is a much larger time commitment—just one can take twenty or more hours to read. I can usually get through a book a week, and if I were to follow through on all of the series books that I’ve picked up this year, the rest of the year’s reading would be planned out for me with no room for surprise. And I don’t want a fabulous character like Erica Falck or Patrik Hedstrӧm to take up residence in my head and then become like an annoying neighbor who won’t leave.