💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Out of Order

How important is series order?

So, I have these two aunts. They’re alike in a lot of ways, but one of their quirkiest differences stands out every Thanksgiving. Aunt #1 separates all of the foods on her plate so that none of them are touching. Aunt #2 swirls all of her food together until everything is mixed in one giant heap. If you believe in astrology, I should note that Aunt #1 is obviously a Virgo and Aunt #2 is clearly a Pisces. Polar opposites. My own philosophy on this matter is that certain foods go better together than others. I’m not opposed to crossing dishes now and then, if the situation warrants it. Who doesn’t like a little salty and sweet?

What I’m getting at here is that some people prioritize order more than others. When it comes to audiobook listening, I’m more like Aunt #1. There has to be an order and that order should be respected. This is my listening preference based on my own experiences. I insist on hearing a series in order.

Now, there have been times when I’ve accidentally picked up Volume II before Volume I and not even realized it until it was pointed out to me. Ironically enough, I actually started two of my favorite series that way. In sixth grade, a wee Audiobookworm somehow managed to fall in love with the Harry Potter series via The Prisoner of Azkaban (Book #3!). More recently, I got about halfway through Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You before realizing it was the second installment in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. In both cases, I immediately backtracked and started each series from the beginning.

I don’t care if the author swears up and down that a series can be heard independently. I’ve been burned by that logic before. I also find it impossible to recommend that a series be heard out-of-order, even if I’ve already finished the entire series. Once you understand something (i.e. the nuances of a plot), it’s difficult to see it from the perspective of someone else. That’s another I hesitate to believe every author’s claim regarding their own series order.

Side Note: I actually lost a friend over this in sixth grade. As you know, I started the Harry Potter series with the third book and subsequently backtracked with books one and two. Once I did that, everything made sense. I naïvely recommended the series to a friend in that order (3, then 1 & 2). My misguided order recommendation backfired for my friend, causing her to get a less-than-stellar grade on a book report…

In my experience, it’s a rare book that can be heard independently of its series. I believe stories are meant to be experienced in the order they were written. By the way, chronological order versus order of publication is a topic worthy of its own post. I do acknowledge, however, that some installments are more dependent than others. A “bridge” book, for example, is exactly that: A bridge between two installments in a series. The Harry Potter series is a great example of a “pyramid” series. Each new installment builds upon its predecessor. That’s not to say that there aren’t smaller story arcs that are resolved within each book, though. On that note, I have no idea how 12-year-old me managed to get all the way through Prisoner of Azkaban without having read the first two books in the series. Just what were you thinking, lil’ Jess?

Series order and order, in general, has become much more important to me as I’ve matured. It’s to the point now that I won’t even touch a mid-series book without having heard its prior installments. It’s a major pet peeve. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with about the matter feels similarly. From a promotional perspective, I’ve found that it’s much more difficult to promote a mid-series book alone. Still, the subject of series order is highly subjective. There are those of you who have no trouble whatsoever picking up a mid-series book and running with it. I don’t understand it, but I respect it.

How often do you read series out-of-order? Do you have strong feelings (one way or the other)? What series have you successfully/unsuccessfully read out-of-order?

Bonus: How do you feel about foods touching on your plate?

I can’t wait to see these responses!


One comment

  1. Hallo, Hallo Jess,

    Interestingly enough, you and I share our fierce declaration about serial fiction! 🙂 I am forever championing the notion ‘by order of the series’ on my blog — it is a topic which comes up far more often than I originally believed possible! Similar to you, I also make hiccups of realising which novel is in which position of a series – sometimes I get blindsided when I agree to review a story – most times I can correct the oversight by borrowing the missing books ahead of the current release through my library; other times? I just have to chaulk it up to a learning curve – therein, I have read books out of sequence but it is not my personal preference at all. In fact, for the very reason you’ve stated here I abhor missing the nuances and the original mannerisms of how a series is built from the first story into the climaxical arc of the series . Technically, you mentioned ‘nuances’ — I added more after that! lol 🙂

    The one series I was not affected by reading out of order was the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle. Even if, these many years later, I’ve yet to get to book three – oy. (long story) Meanwhile, whilst reading the Aunt Dimity series – I noted the stories really ought to be read out of sequence, I’m forgetting which way it goes but I know you start with the first novel, than perhaps it’s three before the second? Or some such? Reason being – one of the novels in the early bit of the series takes you out of the world of Aunt Dimity; almost like the series has a mini-holiday inserted quite randomly and then, picks up in sequence from the first novel you read as if the holiday were an apparition of your own memory?

    More recently, I received a novel for review I hadn’t remembered requesting – unsure if that was due to my migraines from Halloween – to New Year or if I simply overlooked something… either way to Sunday, I sought out righting this error! I noted there were a heap of novels in this series, none of which my local library had acquired over the years, so I made the hard choice to ‘skip round’ the series by requesting ‘every other novel’ until I had three or four leading into the seventh. I was reading the synopsis of each one, noting certain events were building together and/or were resolving; somehow in the end, I think I have a rather condensed version of the series to be reading! lol (smiles) Time will see if my method here serves me well,…

    We have an accord on another point: why do authors purposefully insist NOT to read their series in order?! I mean, if you go to the work to create a book series – wouldn’t want to encourage readers to read it? Boggles me truly. Sometimes I feel like we’re working uphill to convince them there is a purpose in reading sequentially! 🙁 For a writer who writes series herself, I find it rather odd all the way round!

    The hardest series are the ones which were published ‘out of sequence’ with their world-building. Those drive me batty but I still dive into them. I have loved series since I was young – I get so wrapped up inside the lives of the characters and I love residing in the worlds I’m finding which hold my heart and attention.

    Strong feelings? Are there another kind to have re: our bookish lives!? lol No, seriously, are there?

    My invaluable resource for sourcing series is Fantastic Fiction (dotcom) – it doesn’t have all the series I read but it has the vast majority of them. Without this site and the dedicated bookish hearts behind it, I’d be more lost in serial order than I already am! I also wish more publishers would print a list of all books in sequence order inside the books themselves whilst noting the No. and Series name on their jackets. (*although, I did receive a reason why this isn’t done in the UK/Europe — apparently Americans love their series a bit more – something I find hard to fathom)

    Brilliant topic!

Let me know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.