On Starting Long Series Before They’re Finished

The No. 1 reason why people won’t read The Song of Ice and Fire series is not because they’re not interested in fantasy novels (which you might expect would be the case). And it’s not because the books are too long, or violent, or offensive to their delicate sensibilities regarding sex. Nope. The No. 1 reason is that folks don’t want to be left hanging, waiting until 2020 (or whenever) for the notoriously slow George R. R. Martin to finish his series. Readers are friggin’ impatient — and rightly so!

We hate waiting for books, almost than we hate waiting for anything else in the world. And I’m with you — for my entire reading life, I’ve had the same policy: Must wait until finished in order to begin.

But you know what I’ve realized? That that is silly. And you know why? Because at its most fundamental level, it’s just an excuse, a rationalization. And if you really think about it, it’s not a good one.

Let’s take Martin as an example again — even when all seven of those novels are out, if you’ve been waiting until they’re finished, are you really going to sit down and read 7,000 pages of dragons and sword fights back-to-back-to-back? Probably not. Even for shorter series, and even if it’s comforting knowing all are parts are in the world, do you ever really read all parts back-to-back? I sure don’t.

Furthermore, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “You know what, I’m not going to see (insert title of enormous summer blockbuster movie) until all movies in that series are out.” That sounds pretty illogical, right? Why are books different? Because you spend more time with a book? Why should that matter?

And I don’t buy the argument that if you read one in the series now, you won’t remember the characters or what happened in the last book, and it’ll ruin the next book. Easy solution: There’s this magical new invention called the Internet. You can find a summary of the last book there. Or better yet, start your own reading journal so you’ll have your own thoughts on what happened in the last book and the specific themes, character interactions, etc., that resonated with you, personally. My own reading journal is up to 500-single-spaced typed pages now. It may seem a tad OCD, but I can tell you my specific impressions of every book I’ve read since May 2001.

Due to my what-I-now-realize-is-kind-of-silly policy, I own more unread books that are part of unfinished series than you can shake George R.R. Martin’s beard comb at — from Diana Gabaldon to Jeff Shaara to Ken Follett to W.E.B. Griffin. I always stored ’em up, telling myself I’d read them on that glorious near-future day when the series is finished. I hate waiting for book as much as the next person, but my recent experience of reading A Game of Thrones (as well as, believe it or not, The Hunger Games) has made me realize how much I’m missing out on really good books like, say, Fall of Giants with this illogical personal reading policy. And that’s what’s really got me re-thinking it.

So you know what? It’s officially off the books! It’s a momentous day! And I feel like a weight has been lifted. How liberating!

And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the library to find a copy of The Passage. Cheers!

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