Recently, I purchased a few books from an awesome bookstore in Pittsburgh. I was excited to start reading because I had found two books from the genius science fiction writer Issac Asimov. Since I hadn’t read many classic science fiction writers, I saw the books as an opportunity to learn more about the genre. Noticing the word “Foundation” as one of his best pieces, I picked up two books.
One problem. The ignorance of my purchase was validated when I picked up the book, Foundation and Empire to find that it is the second installment in the trilogy. In addition, I had purchased the third installment, Second Foundation, which was sitting at home waiting to be read.
I have the two books on the right: The ones with the orange and blue cover art.
How could I begin the series without the first installment?
Well, folks here is the kicker. I have a secret habit of reading most new series out of order. You’re probably thinking: Just go and buy the other book you need and then read it. My response: Why should I wait to read the story when I have two perfectly good books right here? I can go back and read the beginning of the series later. This mantra has consumed my life for as long as I remember. I pick up a book, read the entire thing, then find out there are three other books that come before and after it.
This accidental out of order reading has happened so often, I have accepted it as a normal habit when reading books. It is rather comical going back, and thinking about what book series I have read in the most interesting order.
Let me take you back to the first time I read a book in a series out of order. It’s 1999, I’m 10 and walked through Kmart or some department store. I’m with my dad when I notice the following cover of a book. It’s a thick book, but up until then I hadn’t seen a good fantasy novel that caught my attention.
I asked my dad to buy the book for me, and by the end of the trip I was at home reading it. Now I might have known about the series if I paid attention to the news, but the internet wasn’t as instantaneous or important to me at 10 years old. No, I read the book cover to cover, never knowing it was the third book in a series of seven.
How can a 10 year old say no to that?!
What book series, you ask? Harry Potter. The book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was hooked on the story, but didn’t have any more of the books to fuel my addiction. Slowly I began collecting the other books (in the right order from that point) so that I could read the entire story of this boy wizard.
The funny thing about reading a series out of order is how your perception of the story changes. As you acquire more information, the story shapes itself like clay being molded rather than a flower unfolding. For most of the novel, I thought Harry Potter was actually Neville Longbottom because he gave a fake name while getting on the Knight Bus. Try thinking that the main character is pretending to be someone else, then going back to read the first book to find out he’s someone entirely different. Even at a young age, I loved piecing together the story line rather than just read it in order.
Let’s jump ahead to high school. I spent as much time as my schedule would allow in the library. Like any good bookworm, I sought after compelling books to take up my waking hours. As I searched though the stacks I came upon the final book in Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series.
You see that one down there on the bottom right? That's the book I chose to read first!
Anthony is one of many fantasy/science fiction writers that inspired my career today, but our relationship started out a little hazy. Like I said, I picked up the book And Eternity, thinking it was a standalone novel. I was impressed to find that it was the final part (well, now I know it’s the second to last book because he added another one on and I just found out) of the series. I wouldn’t figure this out until I picked up the 5th book in the series of 7. To save time, I will name in numerical order how I read the series: 7,5,1, 3,2,4,6. I know, I know, it seems like the weirdest way to read a series, but it worked. The shock when I discovered the connections between book 5 and 6 were much more drastic than if I had read them in order. The discovery of connections was confusing at first, but eventually became a satisfying result.
It may seem as backwards as reading the series in reverse, but the adrenaline rush I received from putting the story together is incomparable to reading it in chronological order. Also, the fact that I have found an additional book in the series I thought was finished makes me incredibly excited.
Check out the middle book in the bottom row. Doesn't it look appealing?
Moving on to a more recent trip down out of order lane, I was perusing through the fantasy section of a book store when I came upon this series. It was clearly stated that it was part of a series, but I had no clue in what order. Like most chain bookstores, they might have two or three selections from a series or from the author. In this case, I picked up what looked like the most appealing cover matched with the back cover blurb. Again, I had chosen the second to last book in the series, Cape Storm.
Did that stop me from reading it? Hell, no. This time, though, it took me a bit longer to read the rest of the series. In this instance, I didn’t have the time or cash to supply my addiction. The time separating the first read from the rest of the series spanned two years at least. When it came to finding the other books, it took little research. Half.com provided me with perfect prices to own the series, IN ORDER. After choosing a book at the very end, I decided to try reading it in order. Only that didn’t work either. While attempting to find the right price for the books, I bought a few that were not in numerical order. One from the beginning, two from the middle, and a few missing in between. I read whatever arrived in the mail. I don’t remember exactly what order I read them, but the reaction was the same. Joy from piecing together a story I first read years before. The details of the first book were a little hazy, but eventually everything fell into place. At the moment, I am a few pages into the final book.
It’s sad to think most people never give this a shot. It’s somewhat like the idea Japanese manga has by placing the order of their books right to left rather than the normal setup. It’s a secondary challenge added on to the act of reading. You are the reader first and foremost, but you have the opportunity to approach the series from whatever angle you chose. You aren’t limited to reading it in the linear fashion we are taught. The book police aren’t going to burst into your room because you haven’t read the first book first.
Take a few minutes and think of what your favorite series would be like if you read it out of order. Try taking your favorite book of the series. Start from there and see how the story would change. It might surprise you how much you take for granted reading in order.
Share your story if you have ever read a series out of order! Maybe I’m not the only crazy one!