Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reading a series out of order

I like this passage from Garbhan Downey's Private Diary of a Suspended MLA, and I like to think I'd enjoy its vivid descriptions, political jabs and lusty good humor even if I were an Ulster Scotsman:

"An Ulster Scots ceili, it seems, is exactly like an Irish one, except all the good bits are taken out. For a start, the musicians were all Scottish and couldn't play in tune; secondly, no-one knew any of the dances, because they were all invented just last week by some chancer from Larne on a big Stormount grant; and thirdly the uileann pipes were replaced with bagpipes, which for us purists is like removing a grand piano from a chamber orchestra and installing a very loud farting machine."
Private Diary ... is the first of Downey's four (t0 date) volumes of comic fiction, and reading it has been a lesson in the pleasures of reading a book out of series order. I've already read Running Mates, Yours Confidentially and Off Broadway, so I especially enjoy the story of how Shea Gallagher and Sue McEwan first met, clashed and loved despite coming from opposite sides of Northern Ireland's political divide. And I enjoy seeing the Stan Stevenson byline on the newspapers stories that form part of the narrative because I know Stevenson takes center stage in Running Mates.

How do you feel about reading out of series order?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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39 Comments:

Blogger seanag said...

I go back and forth on this. I think that, basically, I make the best of it. It feels more satisfying to see the progression, but when for one reason or another, I have entered at some later point, I may be frustrated at some of things I don't understand at the time, but if I go back to earlier books, it turns out that I don't really mind knowing where things are tending.

I think that actually a greater problem is that sometimes you start at the beginning and it's not as strong as it could be, so you don't go on to subsequent books, which may be exponentially better. Not always, but quite often.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I read book 8 after book 6 but before book 7 in the Amelia Peabody series; I thus learned that something awful happened in book 7, and I avoided reading it for a week.

Yes, I'm serious. It was silly and I knew it, but I really didn't want to read that set of scenes. I liked the characters too much.

Generally I try to read in order just to avoid that predicament, but I'm not a slave to it.

February 10, 2009  
Anonymous Karen C said...

I will happily read a series out of order - in fact it's almost a compulsion to do so these days, simply because I'm nearly always one or two books behind in most of my favourite ones. Mind you, I gave up ages ago with the weird way that translations are plucked out of order anyway - so there wasn't a lot of choice, but to read out of order. Having said that - I did find that the Martha Grimes Jury series only made sense when I went back and read it from the start and I found that mildly annoying - each book should at least stand alone as a book - if I need the whole series to figure out who is who then that's just not fair.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I wouldn't consider that silly, especially after what I've written about Jo Nesbø's books.

And I may soon experience yet again that pleasure of going back to the origins of a series. The latest of Fred Vargas' novels to be translated into English is the first in the Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg series. I have read that it lays out the beginnings of at least two situations that figure prominently in later books.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Karen, I agree that each book ought to be able to stand alone. Each of the Jo Nesbø novels I mentioned above is capable of doing so, and I have no quarrel with the author. He wrote a character in at least one book, then decided to kill him off in a later one. It's not his fault, I presume, that the publishers had the books translated out of order.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I dont know about the order, but Garv has crossed a line there,

them's fightin words.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Kerrie said...

I'm a firm believer in reading a series in order if you have the chance. Of course, where we are at a translater's mercy we often don't have the choice, but we moan about it later!

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You know, I wondered, with my delicate, sheltered American sensibilities, how offensive that passage might be.

I like to think that the ridiculousness of the concept of a farting machine takes some of the edge off. And descriptions of the sounds produced by bagpipes, you may be aware, have not been uniformly flattering. This guy did some interesting things with the instrument, though.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter I think you got your Nesbos out of order or else I am not awake yet.

Correct order:

The Redbreast
Nemesis
The Devils Star

The fact that Jo Nesbo "survived" a publishing order in English of:

The Devil's Star
The Redbreast
Nemesis

is a tribute to the brilliance of his books.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, would it make you feel any better to learn that later in the same scene, Downey has his narrator make fun of the event's ludicrous "four-hour Riverdancestyle spectacle"?

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kerrie, I actually don't moan, except for the Nesbøs. And now, let me go solve that little question of their order.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, the confusion is all mine. I meant that I recommended reading The Redbreast first, even though it was translated into English second. Thanks.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And here is a corrected version of the comment:

Seana, your last point may be an argument in favor of reading a series out of order.

Like you, I make the best of it. I'm sometimes forced to do so when books are translated out of series order. But I generally find the pleasure of reading an earlier book after I've read the later ones outweighs the drawbacks. As was the case with this Garbhan Downey book, I enjoy exploring the roots of characters and situations I know already. It's something like the kick I would get out of reading superhero origin comics when I was a kid.

I can think of only two cases in which I would recommend against deviating from series order. For plot reasons, I strongly suggest reading Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast before his The Devil's Star even though the latter was translated into English first.

And I would not start reading Bill James' Harpur & Iles series with the most recent, In the Absence of Iles. It's a strong book, but it's so different from what went before that it might give a new reader a misleading view of this excellent series.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

That helps some, but his dissing of the pipes, its like Sean Connery in The Longest Day all over again.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if Scotsmen roll their eyes at sentimental manipulation of the bagpipes the way some Irishmen might at similar uses of Irish symbols.

In any case, though I have no bagpipe records, the instrument's droning wail can have an effect analogous to that of some flamenco singing or, say, Cecil Taylor's piano playing. A sound almost painful suddenly breaks through into exaltation. Maybe the listener feels like, this stuff isn't going to go away, so I might as well ride it where it takes me.

Is the Dissing of the Pipes a kind of ceremony, like the Changing of the Guard?

February 10, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

If you want to hear something truly painful make your next trip to Belfast coincide with the twelfth of July. A pipe band followed by an accordion band followed by a flute band followed by a bugle band and on and on...

chills

or possibly shakes.


a little taste from the BBC

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A parade is a parade, though that guy was really beating the air out of that poor bass drum.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I nearly always read out of order, because I find most new series in the library and just pick the ones which look interesting. If the series is good, I may buy it later and reread them all.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

I read more out of order than in, and don't mind it, so long as the author takes care to make each book work on its own. It's kind of fun to go back later and realize part way in, "Oh, this is the book where Spenser meets Hawk for the first time," or, "This is what happened to Bootsie."

On the other hand, it's also a kick to see a well-written series evolve, as has Lehane's Kenzie-Gennaro books, and Declan Hughes's Ed Loy series.

I once played a combined gig with a pipe band when I was in the Army. Loved it. One of my handful of most memorable gigs.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I think you're like Karen and me: If it's good, it's good, regardless of order. I'm also guessing that Nesbø's work is more accessible to you in the order of publication.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, exactly. It's fun to go back and have those little revelations. Perhaps appropriately for crime books, it's like investigating a story's past.

I've read the first and third of the Ed Loy books. Maybe I'll go back and make some discoveries in the second.

Sounds like you had some fun jamming with the bagpipers.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I tried and failed to find that clip on YouTube of Sean Connery playing an Irishman dissing the bagpipes on D Day by saying something similar to Garv like "It takes an Irishman to play the pipes."

I dont want to argue about it, but I do think there should be a 100 year ban on any piper attempting Amazing Grace especially way out of context like busking in Times Square or in a subway car.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, every nation has its own pipes, does it not?

You have my preliminary support for the No Amazing Grace on Pipes Act. Actually, a subway car strikes me as unsuitable for anything played on bagpipes. And I could do without guys playing solo kettle drums in the streets, too. The initial wonder that a musician can produce a melody on such an instrument palls pretty fast.

Out of context ... twenty-two or so years ago, I was thrilled the first time I came upon Andean musicians busking in Harvard Square with guitar-like instruments and pipes of their own. By the time I started seeing such groups all over the world and the little ensembles started including electic bass, the thrill had begun to wear off. Do you know that many buskers these days play their instruments over a taped backing track? I always want to ask who manufactured the tape recorder so I can send the maker forty or fifty cents of the dollar that I'd otherwise drop in the musician's case.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

I like bagpipes. I don't know about on the subway, but I'm pretty fine with them out in the open air. They do a pretty nice thing at one of the restaurants in Pebble Beach, where a lone piper walks out on the headland piping at sunset while everyone comes out and watches. And actually at Cowell college, which was my particular college at UCSC, the graduation ceremony is, or at least was last time I was there, led in by two pipers, which makes a nice change from Pomp and Circumstance, at least.

And I've enjoyed the uileann pipes as well, though I've had less exposure to them.

Peter, thanks for clarifying the order of the Nesbo series, as The Redbreast is still in my TBR pile,and I seem to have picked up Nemesis at some point as well, but I haven't even heard of do and I haven't even heard of The Devil's Star.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Devil's Star is a fine book, but you should really read The Redbreast first. In fact, you might well enjoy both books regardless of the order in which you read them, but read them out of series order, and you may experience a brief letdown the first time you encounter a certain character in The Redbreast knowing what has already happened to him in The Devil's Star. I have not read Nemesis, and I don't knoe how it would figure in this discussion.

I don't know enough about pipes other than to be struck by the novelty of the sound when I hear it. The Free Library of Philadelphia has a fine collection of music online. Maybe I'll look up pipes, uileann and pipes, bag.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Forgot to say good Larne ref in Garv's extract. Larne is a true hell hole with no redeeming qualities at all. McFetridge's antecedents are from Larne and when I mentioned what a grim place it was he told me that he'd looked it up on Lonely Planet Ireland only to be told "There is no reason to stop in Larne."

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You've disparaged Larne with such zest that I'm almost -- but not quite -- curious to stop in for a look. Our bus driver mentioned Larne and its shipping history during a trip from Belfast up to the north Antrim coast. But he didn't stop the bus.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Nemesis is also spoilerish

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've little choice in the matter now, having read The Devil's Star and The Redbreast already and lacking the knowledge to read the remaining books in Norwegian or any other language besides English.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

So that is Nemesis for you even though you have not committed Hubris. Not fair at all, I can see that.
You´ll be looking forward to Redemption in March, I bet.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sure, you who read the North Germanic languages can lord it over we poor West Germanic readers. It appears that Frelseren, the next to be translated, will be called The Redeemer in English. It comes after the other three in series order so should present no sequence problems.

February 10, 2009  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

For me it depends on the series. I'm glad I read the Michael Forsythe series in order, but with John's Toronto novels I read Everybody Knows first and know I'll go back and enjoy the first one just as much.

gb

February 11, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

You don't need to be able to read the North Germanic languages -Der Erlöser and its sequel, Schneeman, are already available in German.

recent v-words of interest:
worse, ratcat, haten, code

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard, I also read "Everybody Knows" first, and it did not hamper my enjoyment. Like you, I'm glad I read the Michael Forsythe books in order, and I'd recommend that readers do the same, or at least read "Bloomsday Dead" after the others. But I could imagine someone reading "The Bloomsday Dead" first, then reading the earlier books and enjoying discovery of the roots of the problem resolved in the final book.

McF.'s books, like Downey's, have a shifting cast of characters who recur with more or less prominence from book to book without necessarily being involved in continuous story arcs. This probably makes reading in series orders less of an issue.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco: Sure, you who read languages descended from High German can lord it over we poor Anglo-Frisians.

Thanks for the excellenct set of v-words. It's like reading a comic in a bound collection rather than in the individual, one-at-a-time editions.

February 11, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

I've also had reati and squillo, but at times I feel I've nothing to say and commenting only in order not to let a good v-word go to waste may be a little weird even for me.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've commented for the sole purpose of advertising a v-word. I trust you to do this only if the word is good.

February 11, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

In this case,my latest v-word is exultery, or exultance found in adultery.

February 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Now, that's a good one and true to human experience, I would suggest.

February 11, 2009  

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