It’s Friday as I start my response and will likely be Saturday when I publish it in addition to being the Monday of my workweek, yet I have an answer to share for Booking Through Thursday, so here is the question:

Series or Stand-alone?

My ideal preference is for related books based in – to borrow a science fiction term – the same universe yet with each book a self contained story. I like meeting old friends again or peaking behind corners I wasn’t privy to in another book, but I prefer not to need additional reading to complete the story.

I can name several sets of books I love which fit the standard of “companion” books.

Madeleine L’Engle, my favorite author since I first read A Wrinkle in Time, had interconnections in nearly all of her novels. In most editions of her young adult works, you’ll find a family tree linking her characters. When I first saw it in the copies of the Time Quartet, I poured over it. I spent the next several years acquiring each related title and read them all into dog-eared familiarity.

At the other end of my taste in books, Rachel Gibson often writes romances for supporting cast in previous books or slips in a situation where an old friend can make a cameo without making it a series.
She wrote a bunch of stories featuring the fictional Seattle Chinooks Hockey Team in one way or another and books set in a rural Idaho town and a Texas town. The closest she comes to a true series is her quartet of friends each of whom are writers in a different genera and have completely different approaches to romance. Even those are stand-alone stories even though it’s obvious each woman will eventually get a book of her own. Being romance, they can be read out of order because the formula of girl meets boy, conflict keeps them apart, conflict is resolved, happily ever after ensues is a given. All that is revealed in reading out of order is the name attached to the inevitable spouse.

If truly choosing between a series or a stand-alone book without the option of companion books, I would have to go for stand-alone books. I often feel, especially with modern writers, a story is split into “trilogies” or more simply for financial reasons. If it’s not a literary device, I would rather a writer tell me the story in one volume. Even Tolkien wanted Lord of the Rings to be one book, so I do suspect the vast majority of decisions to serialize comes from the publisher rather than the writer.

It is not just my inner cynic, however, preferring one book over many. The list of books which I count not just as favorites, but as life impacting includes so many titles without sequels or companions. Many of them leave little room for addition except in the reader’s imagination. I can’t fathom a book to go with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Girl With Pearl Earring, or The Red Tent. Or A Handmaid’s Tale. Or Nightfall. Or To Live Again. I could go on for days listing titles.

I go back to the original when I want visit with my friends who live in that world. I know them intimately, yet each time I see the book a new way. I believe there is a C.S. Lewis quote regarding the necessity of reading a book more than once to really understand it, but I haven’t been able to find it. Even if he didn’t say it, I do. Certainly, a book well loved is different each time it is read if for no other reason than the personal growth in the reader which occurs between readings.

It seems in my own reading, the more books about a character, the less depth the subsequent readings provides. One book is like a single painting or photograph. A series is like a movie. When you look at a single stationary object of art over a period of time, the meaning comes not from seeing things you haven’t seen before, but from seeing the same things in a different way. Of course, the experience exists in any artistic form, but is seems to me the more brevity in the work, the more room for seeing this way. Short stories or poems work better than novels, I think, and single books better than series.

With all that being said, sometimes a series is necessary to the story or format of the stories. Detective tales lend themselves to series as do closely related police procedural novels – and yes there is a real difference between those two types of books – because each crime faced is a new story no matter who is solving it. I can’t imagine The Chronicles of Narnia being one book instead of seven. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could have been one book, but it could not have been a single book telling all the stories of the five books in the trilogy.

The bottom line becomes simple: The story itself ought dictate whiter the format is a single book, companion books, or a series.

Author: Tina Louise

Nerd. Geek. Dork.

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