Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday: When Series Jump the Shark

Booking Through ThursdayThis week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt concerns series books: “If you read series, do you ever find a series ‘jumping the shark?’ How do you feel about that? And, do you keep reading anyway?”

I have found that if the early books in a series grab me, I am much more forgiving of later lapses. I really loved Anne Rice’s first two Vampire Chronicles books, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. I didn’t like Queen of the Damned so much, but I understood its importance in terms of the Rice vampire mythos. I did enjoy The Tale of the Body Thief. As the series continued, I liked each book less and less. I didn’t like The Vampire Armand much, I never finished Blood and Gold, Pandora was only OK, and Memnoch the Devil remains the only book I’ve ever thrown across the room. Still, I kept trying for a while, you know? Because I liked some of the earlier books so much. I read Merrick and I tried Blackwood Farm. Finally I had to admit to myself that I just didn’t like the books anymore, and that trying to recapture what I felt about the first couple was pointless: she had clearly moved in a different direction, and it wasn’t one I was going to enjoy.

I had a sort of similar reaction to Stephenie Meyer’s books. I know it’s not cool anymore to admit you’ve read them, but I’ll cop to it. I will even admit to enjoying the first book a lot. The second less so. The third even less. The last one was frankly really awful and extremely weird. Vampire babies, vampire Bella is somehow more remarkable than everyone else (Mary Sue much?), weenie pedophile Jacob, weird abusive sex. Nope. Totally jumped the shark. And I can say honestly that if Meyer has plans to extend the saga with a fifth book, I won’t read it. Breaking Dawn was a shark-jumping moment if ever there was one.

In both cases, I kept up with books in series, despite declining quality, because I had truly liked the first or first couple of books. It is hard not to feel a little betrayed by the books. It’s hard too not to feel a little angry with the author who had previous given you so much pleasure. However, I am clearly forgiving past the point of rationality, especially as illustrated in Rice’s case, and I will read an entire series if the payoff in the first two or so books was good. I have read all of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crime books published to date, and I loved them all. My favorite series, Harry Potter, just got better and better.

One of these days, I’m going to try to finish Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The first four books were rewarding. I never finished the fifth, and haven’t touched the others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sort of Pavlovian reaction to one of her book covers.

If you look at it from a behaviorist perspective, I have clearly been rewarded by enough series books to have learned to stick it out. However, it seems to take me a long time to stop expecting that reward. And you know, sometimes, I just have to finish a series to know what happens. Lately I have been telling myself life is too short to read bad books. And I have been sticking to that axiom, for the most part. A series is a commitment. It’s more than slogging through a few hundred pages. It’s a relationship with an author and her characters. And like many relationships, it can be hard to let go and figure out when breaking up might be the healthiest thing.

Jasper Fforde

Shades of GreyJasper Fforde was in Atlanta last night for a reading, Q & A, and book signing, and I had the opportunity to purchase his latest novel, Shades of Grey, which is a departure from his “books about books”—the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. I brought my daughter with me, and she found the premise of his new book intriguing. It is set in the distant future after some catastrophic event, and the people who inhabit this post-apocalyptic society can only see one color. Accordingly, they divide themselves into groups based on which color they can see.

A few readers asked Fforde questions about interpretation of his books, and I want to try to paraphrase his answer, though I didn’t capture the exact wording. He said that a book only belongs to an author until someone else reads it. After that point, it belongs to the reader too. He described reading as a creative process, work very much akin to the process of actually writing the book, and he said there is room in books for many interpretations because of all the reader brings to a book; therefore, when he is asked whether he meant to comment about something particular with certain choices he makes, he turns the question back on the person who asked: “Well, what do you think?” He values the thoughts and interpretations of the readers as much as his own. I found that to be so beautifully expressed and so true to my own beliefs that when he signed my book, I explained that as an English teacher, I am often challenged by my students who don’t agree with an interpretation I share (whether my own or that of another reader or critic) and thus will insist that the author might not have meant it the way I am explaining it. I usually say that just because an author may not have intended it doesn’t make me wrong necessarily because we all bring certain experiences and knowledge to reading, and we make connections the author may not have intended or known we would make. I also add that many times authors will say they did intend something or other, even if it is not on a conscious level because we have such a vast repository of symbolic language. Now I can tell my students that Jasper Fforde, a successful published author from England, believes the same thing I do. I think it will give my explanation more authority.

If you haven’t read Fforde’s books and you consider yourself a book lover, do yourself a favor and check them out.

The Fourth Bear

Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear is the second in his Nursery Crime series. Detective Chief Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division, is investigating the disappearance and possible murder of Goldilocks. She was last seen alive by three bears, and things just don’t add up. To top it off, deranged psychopathic murderer the Gingerbreadman has escaped from the mental hospital where he’s been confined since Jack collared him twenty years ago, and he’s on a murderous rampage.

OK, this book is just silly, but you have to expect that with Jasper Fforde and just go with it. Fans of nursery rhymes and fairy tales (as well as other types of fiction) will enjoy Fforde’s sly references, and however silly his stories become, he always manages to make me laugh in a few places and keep turning the pages. I had a friend on Twitter ask me if this book was any good because he’d heard this series was not as clever as Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and I have to say that all things considered, I enjoy the Thursday Next books more. However, if Fforde returns to Nursery Crime, I will read the next book, and I plan to be in line when he makes an appearance at the Buckhead Barnes and Noble on January 15. None of my books are in good enough shape to be signed. I may have to purchase his new one. Oh, drat.