Of course the most common separation amongst readers is those who read deliberately and those who pick up a book, magazine, or cereal box unconsciously to fill in time as it passes. Although the relative value of the reading material selected by the later type is highly variable, the observable tactics suggest it must be within easy reach.
Deliberate readers, however, often select the item to be read before obtaining it, either from a library, a bookstore, or a moldy box left in the garage after their last move. Although tactics might favor selecting a book already sitting on the bookshelf, what if that book is the fourth novel in a rigorous detective series? I have found that books in a series are best read in the order written. First, the earlier novels set up the background of the novel: the location, the chief characters, the hero’s backstory; and, second, elements of the narrative may be carried forward as the series progresses.
Note that some series’s are so extended that unknown plot elements or characters may be more important on Trivia Night than when reading the next novel. An example here is Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series: who is Paul? And be aware that the order in which a series of novels is written does not always follow the timeline of the narrative sequence: see Gregory McDonald’s Fletch series.
Not all novels represent a narrative sequence and some novel collections are based on other than narrative. Consider Joyce Carol Oates who has more than one collection based, possibly, on a theme. No characters or events are shared amongst the novels; each stands totally independent. Then there’s the author who doesn’t write serials or sequences. I tend to read these authors in publication order. I suppose it’s the old Literature Professor in me assuming I’ll be analyzing the author’s growth: the maturing of the voice and style of the prose. As we used to say: that and 15 cents will get you a ride on the subway.
But the question I want to ask is: how many readers start with a classic author by reading his or her most famous or most prominent novel and then somehow fail to follow-up with the lesser known or esteemed works?
Being effectively locked-down here in Florida, fully vaxxed but still not taking any chances, I have I have the time. the skills, and yes, the funds, to fill in all the enormous gaps in my reading. So that is my current strategy for reading. Oh, I still try to keep a book series in order but seldom get worried about reading any author’s work out of developmental order.
For May I’m considering reading the following titles:
- Kingdom of the Golden Dragon — Isabel Allende
- Samskara — U. R. Ananthamurthy
- A Harlot High or Low — Honoré de Balzac
- When the Killing’s Done — T. C. Boyle
- Dry: A Memoir — Augustin Burroughs
- The Devil Never Sleeps: and Other Essays — Andrei Codrescu
- A Book of Common Prayer — Joan Didion
- The Financier — Theodore Dreiser
- Jonathan Wild — Henry Fielding
- Crossroads — Jonathan Franzen
- The Exile — William Kotzwinkle
- Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell — Javier Marías
- The Time of the Angels — Iris Murdoch
- From the Terrace — John O’Hara
- The Russian Debutante’s Handbook — Gary Shteyngart
- The Train — Georges Simenon
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas — Gertrude Stein
- The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro — Antonio Tabucchi
- Yvain — Chretien de Troyes
- The Big Green Tent — Ludmila Ulitskaya
With one or two additional big fat ones if there’s time:
- The Good Soldier Svejk — Jaroslav Hasek
- When Christ and his Saints Slept — Sharon Kay Penman
- Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages — John Cowper Powys