I have a problem. It’s a dark shadow looming over my bookish life, and I cannot pinpoint exactly when it first arose.
I am mostly a literary fiction reader (that is not the problem — I very much enjoy it), which means that most of the books I read are standalone. And although I have read a few series, and I have enjoyed them, most of the times I’ve picked up a series they’ve ended early for me: I have either read two of the books in the series, or I stopped after the first, despite the fact that there are at least three installments to each of the series I chose to start.
Then, sometime in the last two years, I began to actually feel an aversion for sequels and prequels, going so far as to be upset when I pick up a book that I think is a standalone, just to find out halfway through it — or after I am finished with it — that there is a sequel. Honestly, my response is always the same: Fuck no!
The last time this happened was just last month, when I started reading Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga for a book club. I went in knowing nothing about it — that’s how I prefer going into my books — but sometime during the month, the book club shared bits and pieces in preparation for the meeting, including info about a sequel. And again, there I went: Wait, there’s a sequel? Oh, fuck me.
So, as one does, I started to wonder where this almost visceral reaction comes from, and I began to think about my relationship with series in the past and my habits as a reader in the last few years.
For starters, I know that I am currently a much more involved reader and, to be honest, I am not certain if that’s better or worse. On one hand, I like the way I presently tackle my reading, and how much I get to read in a year; on the other, I was a much more confident reader when I wasn’t aware of how much some people know about books.
While before I considered myself a great book recommender (yes, this is a word which exists), now I always feel like I’m recommending the same books almost everyone sees on their timelines, and I am not so certain anymore of my bookworm status. If a reader can suffer from imposter syndrome, I do.
But, because I read a lot more, I also know that I don’t hold the same space — or time — for books that I used to. With a big TBR following me around the house on the daily, I do not wish to spend several weeks in one book alone. It’s a conscious choice, and I am okay with it. Because it is not just about quantity, it’s about quality. I know for sure that a lot of the books I consume in a year have quality, probably more than those that took me over a month to read in the past.
But all this makes me think twice about reading longer books. To me, a book with around 300 pages is the perfect size, as it allows me to get to know the characters and the story without being rushed, but also without dragging. So I really need to be interested in the story to read a book that is, let’s say, more than 500 pages long.
Moreover, I do not have patience for very descriptive books; please, show me, don’t tell me. And show me quick. I get a bit frantic wanting to know what the hell is going to happen next, and I don’t have a lot of lenience for build-up, or for stories that focus too much on details, rather than focusing on the characters and whatever afflicts and moves them.
Finding out a book has a sequel makes me wonder what it was that couldn’t be told in the first book — and yes, I understand sometimes authors will write a book, and then decide there’s more to the story, and write more. That’s okay. But sequels give me the sense that the first volume is incomplete, and I am not certain I want to commit to having to pick up another afterward in order to have the whole story in my hands. I feel like I don’t want to abandon these characters, but you leave me no choice.
I prefer to be allowed to say goodbye to the characters properly, especially after I have already offered my time to them and their story. So what I ask is for a proper farewell without having to pick up another book to find out more. Also, I know myself. There is a high chance I get to a point in which I couldn’t care less, and I don’t pick up the sequel anyway.
Especially if I see no warning that there is a sequel as I start a book, my reaction will often be: You know what, I don’t care. Tell me what you have to tell me now, or forever hold your peace. And, don’t mind me. I will hold their peace for them (and mine). Which, take note, I find terrible. But it is what it is.
I hope that, in time, I will get to shape myself as a reader differently, because I do miss the excitement that comes with loving something so fiercely that you only want more of it. For now, I will continue to stay away from books with sequels and, if I find out about the sequels too late, continue to stubbornly refuse to read anything beyond the first book. With a firm, and resolute, fuck no.