Tessa: Binge reading series probably offers the closest experience to what the author intends. The beauty of reading series in a row is *getting* all the complex twists and turns. Can you imagine if the Lord of the Rings was released a year apart? (Not the movie version.) That’s a helluvah lot to keep in your head over 365 days of grocery shopping, flat tires, and—perhaps most importantly—other books. The whole point of a story is to suck you in, so it seems more real than reality. You have a full year of getting lost in other stories—stories with can often color your mood/perception of other things you see/read. It makes it especially easy to forget characters and subplots.
Cari: True. You can get complexities and connections more easily when the previous story is still fresh in your mind. But, what if you are reading a series of non-epic-length stories? Stories that aren’t as layered or ones that are more episodic like The Babysitters Club? With that series, you didn’t even need to read the books in order. Each included a backstory of how the Babysitters Club came to be and contained a single mystery to solve. I don’t remember any series level arcs. Nothing was lost by skipping stories with your least favorite sitter as the main character. In that case, I don’t think it mattered to me when I got the next book. I enjoyed the series and wanted to read more, but the timing didn’t affect how I read or understood the series.
Tessa: Oh I was much too high class to read The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley. (*I* read Trixie Belden instead.) But that also begs the question—are serials and series the same thing, to be considered in the same way? Wouldn’t the type fundamentally change the experience?
For example with mysteries (or say, Terry Pratchett), you get a much more complete experience as a reader if you read the books in order (probably more so than the Babysitters Club), but each are episodic enough that continuity isn’t required. Sure, you might not get all the in-jokes and references, but you wouldn’t lose any real enjoyment.
Stories like those in Arabian Nights are wholly complete in themselves. They are loosely related but in no way need each other, and the only thing keeping you alive each night. (Babysitter’s Club probably falls here.)
Trilogies, or LOTR: one massive story split up into three sections so people wouldn’t have to carry around a hundred pound book. Reading it out of order would result in a lot of Buffy-esque “huh?” Each book wraps up enough so you’re not left in the middle of a sentence, and that’s about it. (Lirael and Abhorsen anyone?)
Cari: You’re right. Different types of books read differently. For me, if an epic is really complex, I might just be focusing on basics of the plot the first time through rather than understanding the subtext and connections. I wouldn’t necessarily benefit from reading the book in the series immediately because I’ve missed hints the author left me.
Books resurface in my thoughts a few days after finishing them. I’ve had time to process the book and then I’ll wonder about subplots and my unconscious will have picked up on details that made the story so enjoyable in the reading. Reflection can allow me to appreciate the story more when I’ve overcome the enjoyment and satisfaction of the ending. Then I can anticipate the next book even more. But, if I started the next in the epic series too soon? I might be plodding through instead of enjoying it.
With regular series – series that aren’t episodic, but that won’t take me three months to get through? If I’ve enjoyed the first part, there is a piece of me that wants the next bit immediately and another part that doesn’t want the series to end. If it’s short and fluffy, I don’t mind reading straight through. But, if my mind was blown? I like to process. And I like to feel that much more satisfied when I’ve waited and anticipated the arrival of the next part of the series – even if I just had to wait for a library hold to come in.
Tessa: I almost always want the next segment right away. In a way, I want it to end—so I can stop obsessing and get on with my normal life. Plus, the reading experience is so much more enjoyable if I can finish a story *while* I’m obsessing. While my mind can’t stop turning over the characters and plot. Put too much time between one installment and the next, and I’ve moved on emotionally. I’m still invested, and wanting to see what happens, but it becomes more of a “oh, that’s a good book, I liked it” instead of “omg you have to read this, like, yesterday.”