By all possible reckonings, both sentimental and calendrical, it is now officially summer. Beach Books on a Bus (2010 Edition) is now officially underway as well, as yesterday I once again rode the PRTC and cracked open my massive hardcover collection of the first three Barsoom novels (which is going to give me a significant workout just in the carrying-around, I suspect) and dove into A Princess of Mars, a pulp touchstone which is a little bit hard to believe I have thus far left untouched. I’m planning to go straight through the entire hardcover in one go, reading the trilogy back-to-back-to-back. I mention that because it’s something that I hardly ever do.
Back in June of 2007 when I started this government contracting gig and rode the bus every day, the very first book I brought along for the commute was a fantasy paperback, the first volume of a Dragonlance trilogy. I had borrowed the entire trilogy from a buddy of mine, but once I finished the first volume I read a memoir next (Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is awesome and I cannot recommend highly enough) and only when that was finished did I move on the next book in the fantasy trilogy. And after that, I read The Tipping Point, which I had discovered was reading recommended by the director of the DoD agency where I was contracting. Then I finished the trilogy.
It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the trilogy as of the end of the first novel, or at any other point as I went along through it. (There are approximately 700 different Dragonlance trilogies and other series making up an interconnected universe approximately on par with the complexity of modern superhero comics, and if you aren’t a fan then the next bit is going to be meaningless gibberish to you, but the particular trilogy I’m referring to here is the original Legends, the one about Raistlin and Caramon and time travel and the ascent to godhood and all, which is easily one of the top 5.) It just didn’t feel right to read the whole trilogy in one go. I wasn’t afraid of getting bored with the story, per se, I just thought I would enjoy it more if I broke it up.
That’s probably a vestigial impulse from growing up with my dad, who used to commute in from New Jersey to Manhattan on the NJ Transit and Path trains and was a fairly voracious reader himself. He would pick up new paperbacks on a pretty regular basis, and by “new” I mean not just new to him but newly published. It’s strange to recall, but there are various series which I think of as ancient and venerable institutions now, but which my dad was reading as they were published, which meant waiting months or years between installments and reading other, unrelated books to fill the gaps. I suppose because I was witness to that in my formative years, the idea became embedded that that’s how you’re supposed to do it. Even once my dad had completed a series and every volume was on the family bookshelf and I started pulling them down and reading them, I would end up consuming them at almost the same rate my dad had originally, and I would intersperse other stuff (usually for school) in between the individual novels.
Of course I’ve (arguably) grown up and have my own discretionary income and my own book collection and I don’t read hand-me-downs exclusively (though I still do that too, of course) and I have found myself at times buying books which are parts of series that have not yet been completely published or in some cases completely written. Or they exist fully realized out there in the world but I haven’t yet put my hands on every volume. Honestly, given the high incidence of creating properties with multi-volume potential especially in the genre-ghettos of sci-fi and fantasy and horror that I’m drawn to, this happens all the damn time. And that is another reason (in addition to bookbinding considerations) why I am planning to read straight through the John Carter of Mars trilogy: I almost can’t abide the thought of having yet another series added to the list of series I’m currently somewhere in the middle of, so I need to hustle Edgar Rice Burroughs’s planetary romance masterpiece on and off the list with all due haste.
Here’s the company it will be momentarily joining:
The Kingkiller Chronicles – I haven’t finished this series yet because only the first volume has been published. I read a review of that opening novel (The Name of the Wind) which was absolutely gushing, so I went out and bought it and had to agree, it was pretty phenomenal. Sometimes I surf over to the author’s blog to see how he’s progressing on the sequel. The answer is usually “slowly”. I carry around a certain amount of guilt associated with this series because I was so quickly and completely enamored of it that I gave a copy to my dad and another to a good friend of mine, both of whom finished it and said “That was great! When does the next one come out?”
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – I’m two books into this series and, as above, just waiting for the next volume (the third of a projected four) to be written and published. The Covenant books are actually a series of trilogies (Chronicles, Second Chronicles, and Last Chronicles) so I’ve actually already got eight of them under my belt. And those first six are books my dad read on his commute, which I borrowed later, and which I now am trying to assemble my own copies of, specifically of those same paperback editions from the early 80’s with the cool paintings on the covers.
A Song of Ice and Fire – Yet another unfinished series, with four volumes out so far and (I believe) three to go. I’ve read all four published entries in the past three years, on the commute. It’s a great epic story of war and politics against a fantasy backdrop, and so popular that the first book is soon to be a mini-series on HBO (A Game of Thrones). But man, the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, is taking forever and a not altogether small fear preys on my mind that the author could very well drop dead before finishing the whole series. (Which nearly happened to Stephen King with his Gunslinger magnum opus, and did in fact happen to Robert Jordan just before he could complete The Wheel of Time, which is a 14-book monster I have so far steered clear of.)
The Dresden Files – This is an ongoing series that’s more comicbooky than most on this list, in that it doesn’t seem particularly structured to have an endpoint. Harry Dresden, Wizard for Hire, gets into supernatural adventures in modern Chicago, and every novel is a satisfying complete story, plus there’s a larger narrative arc running through all of them about Harry’s various relationships and personal development. I’ve read the first four, there’s ten or so published so far, and Jim Butcher will probably just keep riding the gravy train for as long as he possibly can, which would make it kind of like a single-author version of Sweet Valley High. With sex and murder and demons and vampires and stuff. (Which, for all I know, Sweet Valley High had as well? But I was led to believe it is not my cup of tea, as such.)
The Adelia Aguilar books - I don’t think this series has a catchy overarching name, probably because it’s not exactly from the genre-ghetto where such things are de rigeur parts of the marketing of novels. I read Mistress of the Art of Death a year or so ago and I liked it well enough, kind of a Name of the Rose Lite with a female physician instead of a male monk as the protagonist. I became aware that there were additional novels about the heroine Adelia, and I intend to check them out at some point, but this is another loose ongoing adventures kind of series, as opposed to “the whole story will only be complete when the last one comes out”. So it’s not a super-high priority, and doesn’t really sit in my mind as unfinished business. But still.
Spellsinger – This is a series I kind of fell into by accident. The first volume (and only the first volume) was in a bag of secondhand paperbacks I was given in high school and managed to carry around with me for an astonishing stretch of time, until it was unearthed six months ago as we packed for the big move and I figured I could give some of the contents a shot as commute reading material. Only when I got to the end of the novel did I realize it wasn’t a proper ending at all, and a little online research informed me there are a total of 8 books in the series. But the good news at least is that all 8 have been published with the last one coming out in 1994, so I just need to track them down. I have the second volume at home.
Millennium – aka The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and so on. Sadly Stieg Larsson is no longer with us, but he did finish this trilogy before going to his reward. I just read the first installment a month or so ago and I’ll pick up the other two sooner than later, I imagine.
Spelljammer – This is another Dragonlance series, six volumes long, and unfortunately this one is probably ranked nearer to the bottom of the 700 or so disparate cycles in that fantasy universe. But it’s got a marvelously insane premise, centering around giant sailing ships that use a special kind of sorcery to fly through outerspace, thus creating gloriously goofy sci-fi/fantasy parfait stories. The books are out of print, but being invested in the series at least gives me something interesting to specifically seek out at various used bookstores and library sales and whatnot.
All Creatures Great and Small – Hey look, it’s a series of books that are neither sci-fi nor fantasy nor crime fiction! I’m so well-rounded! It may perhaps go without saying (not that that has ever stopped me before) but the books of James Herriot are much loved by my beloved, and she gently pointed me in their direction, aided by the fact that she already owned the books. I found them perfectly charming, as well – or, at least, found the first two perfectly charming. I found the third volume perfectly absent from our collective bookshelves, apparently lost somewhere along the line between my wife reading it back in the day and the eventual consolidation of our respective libraries. The fourth and final volume is safe and sound by the first two, so really I just need to go out and get the third installment, because honestly if it had been in the house all along I surely would have finished reading the whole series by now. Of course I am slightly OCD about books on shelves, especially series, so much like my quest to compile the first two Chronicles trilogies of a certain vintage paperback edition, I’ll make every effort to find a copy of All Things Wise and Wonderful that matches the other three books. And that might slow things down.