Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 4: I Don’t Want Another Cliffhanger
I was among those who started reading the Harry Potter books at age 12 when only the first three books were out. And so began the waiting: a few months until Goblet of Fire, three YEARS until Order of the Phoenix, another couple years for Half-Blood Prince, and two more until the finale in Deathly Hallows. In retrospect, waiting was part of why I loved the books so much: no matter how many other books I read from 1999 to 2007, there was always this series I reread and revisited, learning it like the back of my hand, sewing it into my mental map of reality, into my language.
All of which meant I used to get impatient with people who couldn’t remember, say, the difference between a Muggle and a Squib; that’s like confusing albinism with melanism, or worse. But a year or so ago, I read all the Hunger Games books in 4 days and forgot most of the details in them after a few months. Sure, I could paint a broad picture of what bad stuff goes down, what affronts to human dignity take place, and perhaps which people die, but I couldn’t name all the tributes or victors or weird technological weaponry that gets used. None of my Hunger Games discussions can turn on a detail like that. I realized that my rereading in anticipation of the next installment of Harry Potter made me so much more literate in that universe, and rather
insane invested in the storyline and characters.
All of which sounds like an argument for getting into a series, even if it isn’t finished, right? After all, even if the larger story told in the series weren’t finished, each book has its own plot which can stand alone, more or less. But the longer and more expansive the series gets, the more loaded each book, and the more pressure there is for the crisis to be reached and resolved, the loose ends to be tied and tucked neatly away. Years of waiting for that can take their toll; just look at the Sherlock fandom. Whatever good you get out of the wait, you also get…the wait. Nor do you have any guarantee that your patience will be satisfied. Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert attempted to finish book projects their fathers John and Frank had begun (reviews on the resulting books are mixed); Robert Jordan died before finishing Wheel of Time; and they are far from the only authors who died, leaving unfinished stories. I’ve said that I won’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until George R. R. Martin finishes writing them, which at his current rate (extrapolated from the other publishing dates) might well be 2027. Or it might not happen at all. Some friends want to discuss the extant books and thus urge me to reconsider; I’ve been accumulating Martin’s books gradually in preparation, and I might crack the first two before buying more.
Unfinished series don’t always put me off; I’ve started the Dresden Files and found that there are enough of them to keep me busy for a while (I started reading them over a year ago and am only 9 books in). And meanwhile, sometimes a series is complete, but I still hesitate to start it because I’m not sure which book comes first. This is why I haven’t started the Earthsea Cycle yet (do you have to read “The Word of Unbinding” first? Are there three books or six? Someone please share their wisdom). It’s why I haven’t read Vale of the Vole, despite my friend’s insistence that I’d love it – it’s the tenth of a series I haven’t tracked down. Then there are times when I gleefully read things out of order: I read the Peter-and-Harriet books before I got to Peter’s bachelor days, and Prisoner of Azkaban before Chamber of Secrets.
What series(es) have torn you up with waiting? Which are tearing at you right now? Upon which cliffs do you hang?