Monday, November 06, 2006

Tri-ologies,

as my grad school roommate would call them, are consuming a great deal of my time just now, as we read and read in preparation for selecting our annual Fanfare list to be published in the January issue. More than a dozen of the titles on the longlist are first volumes, middle volumes, last volumes--the question is, how do you fairly judge them? Need they "stand on their own"? (For a Newbery, they do.) Can a first volume be comprehensively assessed without the reader knowing what the author has in store for the next? Octavian Nothing, for example, seems to stand alone--but what if volume two reveals it all to have been a dream? Or what if I feel like the last Bartimaeus book stands on its own, but someone who has read both of the preceding volumes assures me I am missing a ton? Should an excellent middle book not stand alone?

Then there are the books you thought were over at one blow but NO. Like The Giver. And surely there are those (examples, anyone?) that never see the finish, like TV leaving us with the aliens taking over Florida (Invasion) or the hunky psychiatrist screaming at the sky (Huff). I hope when Lemony Snicket called his last book The End, he meant it.

12 comments:

Lynn said...

I may be the only one, but I feel every book should be able to stand alone. I do not want to be left dangling, unless that is indeed the desired ending, and forced to read another book. That (potentially) takes the decision to read another book by the author out of my hands. Every book should have beginning, middle, and end regardless of if they are part of a set. And, if a single book is part of a set be honest about it so I'm not peeved later.

James A. Owen said...

I agree with Lynn. Terry Brooks was hugely influential to me back when he wrote massive one-shot books. (And even then, the 'loose' trilogy he began his Shannara books with was comprised of standalone volumes, linked thematically).

But then his publisher realized they could split the big books up into trilogies, and I DREAD the fact that the first new book WILL end on a cliffhanger rather than a resolution; and that with book two, it's more advancement rather than a conclusion, which they've saved for book three.

My ideal model is the Prydain books. It's a series, and they do tie together - but any one of them could be read on its own.

gail said...

Am I being too harsh to suggest that a book that can't stand alone is a marketing tool?

Anonymous said...

I also feel a bit disappointed when I snuggle into bed to relish those last few pages and I'm still not satisfied. But I don't think it's necessarily productive to insist on so rigid a definition of what a novel ought to be. If someone writes a really fantastic trilogy of non-stand-alone novels, I won't turn it down on those grounds alone. And two of my three favorite movies are Lord Of The Rings installments.

rindawriter said...

Each book needs to be jewel, unique. If it's part of a series, that should mean three jewels instead of just one. Size shouldn't matter-or where it is--just the beauty of the stone.

And I ought to be able to read them together or not as I please--just like wearing a three-piece set of jewelry!

little brother said...

I've enjoyed many a trilogy and have had long-term relationships with many series of books. While a trilogy-type book can extend the major plot points over the set, each has to give some resolution or you end up with a rambling boring mess like Jordan's Wheel of Time that surpassed being a trilogy several years ago and just keeps going on and on and on. A series can have the same set-up, the same characters, but each book must be whole and stand on its own. I grew up reading Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Happy Hollisters, Bobsey Twins (yes I am dating myself) and enjoyed each one as it seemed a new adventure with friends I had already made. But when you get a series that leaves threads hanging and questions unanswered it loses all appeal (is anyone going to watch LOST until the end of the season if they don't throw us a crumb soon?).

sdl said...

Ideally all books should stand alone, but I don't think that's a fair standard for books that were intended to be part of a series. I think they have to come to some closure, and they need to efficiently convey what came before so the book makes sense. But if a book that is the third in a trilogy is deeply satisfying and brings the whole series to a tremendous close because of the resonance it gains from the previous two books, then that is all you can ask. You can't hand that book to someone who hasn't read the first two and ask that it be deeply satisfying and resonant all by itself. That's like criticizing a dog for not being a cat.

Besides, look at it practically. If that becomes the standard, then you're asking the publishers to start bringing out 2000 page novels and no one in the reviewing world wants that!

YS Doug said...

I don't like being thrown a "twist" at the end that forces me to continue a story. Sequels have become sub-par excuses to make us keep reading / buying, really inspired by movie franchises. Beginning, middle, end... close the book.

Regarding "Lost," they are ending mid-season this week and returning in February or March to complete the season. This is an effort to rectify the situation from last season, when nearly every other week was a repeat or a recap.

Kat said...

a fat book



Ah, give me a fat book, that sucks me in, fills my thoughts, and makes me crave more. Stand alone. Absolutely. But, if there is a last sentence, a last paragraph, an ending that alludes to oh, so much more, all power to that author. Give me a story. That's all I ask. Don't teach me, unless it is unwitting, don't preach to me, unless it is called for, but by all means, drag me somewhere that I have never, but long to be. That is the essence. That is the trilogy. I will wait. I will crave. I will buy. Best, yet. Let me find a trilogy that I have never found before. One that is finished and I will read you, devour you, in one sitting, one breath, one escape from life. That, my friends, is a bit of heaven!
k

Melinda said...

Now, your magazine itself said that "The Subtle Knife" would be incomprehensible as a stand-alone book. Hem hem.

Roger Sutton said...

But I don't know that "incomprehensible as a stand-alone book" is a bad thing. Why should a story be limited to one volume? Is it wrong to have to say, "No, you need to read The Golden Compass first"?

And as (my) little brother points out, series take different forms. Some, like Tolkien's or Pullman's or Rowling's need to be read in one order; others are more forgiving, accreting details and back stories as they go but still allowing each volume to work alone--my current favorite series, Donna Leon's about Detective Brunetti, works this way.

Stella said...

I read "The Subtle Knife" before "The Golden Compass" and I still loved it.

Granted, I was in, what, sixth or seventh grade when I read it? So I didn't mind that much about the little things that I didn't understand plotwise. The characters were still fabulous, and the story was amazing. It was simply a good book, regardless.