The sequel and the spoiler alert

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 Permalink

I’ve had a post-it note sitting on my kitchen bench for weeks. Possibly months. In fact I have a few. As a lover of words I occasionally hear a quote or phrase I like and jot it down. More often that not I eventually throw the piece of paper away, or the scribble in my notebook gets lost amidst other stuff. Like grocery lists.

Anyhoo, this quote was by JJ Abrams, director of the latest Star Trek movie and from an interview he did after the movie’s launch.

“I think a lot of sequels make this weird mistake, which is that they assume you care.”

Oh yes. How many times are we disappointed by the sequel? More often than not, it seems.

It must be hard for those in the entertainment industry to sustain our interest when there are so many new and exciting things to capture our ADD minds. So it’s increasingly obvious they can’t coast along on their predecessor’s success.

I’ve been pondering on that issue in terms of authors – particularly those who produce a series of books.

Even those whose series remained ridiculously successful (Stephenie Meyer and Twilight; JK Rowling with Harry Potter) had their moments, with some novels just not stacking up to the hype of their predecessors. Of course, in MY esteemed opinion, some authors appear to struggle as their series continue… James Patterson and Alex Cross; Jeffrey Deaver and Lincoln Rhyme (and many MANY others) come to mind*.

In fact I had a reminder of that very fact recently when I discovered my mother reading a Patricia Cornwell book. And here I must fall on my sword and confess that I was a fan of her early work. Back in the 1990s I LOVED all-things-Kay-Scarpetta. And, although our relationship had been through a bitter end – cos it all went to crap – I’d held onto Cornwell’s first four or five books until my latest move in late 2012. My mother planned to give them (and a heap of others which were / are equally embarrassing if I’m pretending to have sophisticated literary tastes – John Grisham, James Patterson and the like) to the local Op Shop but loaned them out to friends beforehand.

I asked if she’d started with the first book.

“Oh,” she said, “I hadn’t realised they were a series.”

The obsessive-compulsive freak in me started hyperventilating before regaining control. And I realised that I too – on occasions – have read a series of novels out of order. Although I try not to.

I love nothing better than discovering a new author, whose work I like and who have years of novels behind them. Indeed, on discovering Robert B Parker, JD Robb, John Sandford, Alafair Burke (and so forth) I actually ‘ordered’ their books from local libraries and diligently read them in chronological order. As you do…. (if you’re me!)

In my (oh so humble) opinion, reading a series out of order can be fraught with difficulties and I just did that very thing recently.

I’ve started doing some book reviews (some of which I’m publishing here, others just in Goodreads) and, as a result, I’m discovering new authors… which is seriously exciting. However, I’ll happily launch into a book only to find the typical ‘recap of recent happenings’ (aka backstory) which essentially RUINS the previous novels’ suspense or surprise factor. Knowing that my lead character has just survived a psychopath who happened to be her boss / fellow cop / girl he was dating (having previously overcome another brush with death in an earlier case), means that if I go back to read the previous novels, I’ll already know whodunnit.

Of course, I recognise the dilemma of the author. One must provide some backstory or readers will remain confused : Why doesn’t our heroine trust men? Why does our hero have blackouts?

I’m sure sustaining a group of interesting characters and intriguing plots over a series of novels must be an incredible challenge, but I’d to think there’s some way of ‘setting the scene’ without giving away the outcomes of the previous novels.

Do you read series of books?
Do you read them in order or randomly?
Do you find sequencing a problem, or
 am I just overly anal?

* I can’t remember this being an issue for Enid Blyton and the Famous Five or Secret Seven. Or even Noddy and Naughty Amelia Jane! #justsayin


  • Jo Tracey
    September 17, 2013

    I’m a series reader & hate little more than reading out of order. I usually re-read the last in a series before I read the new release. And yes, I’m aware of how sad that sounds…

    • Debbish
      September 17, 2013

      Oh I do that with TV shows Jo… so, before a new season is about to start I’ll rewatch some of the last eps (did that with Miss Fisher recently!).

      I’m less likely to do it with books – not sure why. But I do read many novels more than once. Sometimes it’s about the writing and sometimes it’s about the comfort factor.

      • Jo Tracey
        September 18, 2013

        I agree. Some books are like old friends.

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