Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reading Order

So I've been re-reading the Dragonrider of Pern books which brings forth an age old debate: in what order should a person read books.

For the most part its the age old chronological order versus publication order. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, let's use a movie example. Star Wars. If you were watching all the Star Wars movies would you watch them in order of episode (1,2,3,4,5,6) or release (4,5,6,1,2,3). Personally I'm a fan of the flashback order (4,5,1,2,3,6), so that you get sucked in with 4 and 5 and then when Darth Vader says he's Luke's father you can see how that came to be, as if its a flashback, before ending the series.

Some books can easily be read in both orders, since the published order is chronological, but that's not always true.

I'm a huge fan of chronological order, but I feel I'm in the minority. I have friends who swear that published order is the only way to read books. It's something I feel I have argued about and worried about a lot in recent years. Whenever I'm going to start a series, I have to look it up and figure out which book is first.

However, when I was younger I didn't worry about these things. I read the Star Wars in a completely random order, starting with The Young Jedi Knights, moving to The Thrawn Trilogy, and then whatever book my bookstore had in random. The same was true for the Dragonriders of Pern books. I read "The Smallest Dragonboy" in my seventh grade textbook, I then went to the library and got the only Dragonriders of Pern book there was: Moreta. Then I read the Harper Hall Trilogy. It was all very random. And yet none of this randomness bothered me. Strange how the times have changed.

So what about you? Are you a believer in chronological order, publication order, or random order?

1 comment:

  1. I'd say it depends on the way the series is presented. This is the sort of thing I suspect I could spend a lot of time thinking about and/or discussing with someone before I started nailing down general guidelines based on storytelling style, so I won't attempt to do so right here. I can definitely say that I have gone through series which I believe to be best experienced in chronological order and others I believe to be best experienced in published order. (As you mentioned, some make it easy by having both orders be the same.) These are just a few examples that come off the top of my head.

    1) Chronicles of Narnia - I only read this for the first time in college, and did so in a collected binding from cover to cover. It was published in chronological order rather than published. I thought it worked well and there was no point at which I felt anything had been spoiled or would have been better had I not read a previous segment. This is probably an either/or series.
    2) Dune - The original series by Frank Herbert (at least the original book, I can't recall how much of the sequels are spent introducing concepts to which backgrounds are explained in the prequels) absolutely MUST be read before the Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert prequel trilogies (there are two prequel trilogies-one near past, and one distant past). If you're going to read the prequels at all, they have to be read after the original, and even the two prequel trilogies must be read in publishing order. There are concepts introduced incredibly well in the original book that would have their significance absolutely shattered if you already knew how they came about. So much of the first book's presentation is dependent on the gradual revelations as to the world's workings, that to go into it with prior knowledge diminishes both it and the revelations in the prequels. Definitely an order of publication series.
    3) Robot/Empire/Foundation - I read this massive series in chronological order from beginning to end. Initially I had just decided to read the robot series in chronological order (which is pretty close to publication order, I believe), then heard that the Empire/Foundation series had been combined with it into one massive series over the course of Asimov's life. I just kept trucking through. I definitely think this is best chronologically. The way Asimov linked everything together with various prequels/sequels works so well and he was brilliant enough to avoid spoiling any revelations that came later. Reading it chronologically helps you remember the significance of individual characters and events as the galaxy changes from book to book, as characters can be minor in one book and major in the next, meaning jumping in publication order would leave you struggling to remember why a character is significant.

    So yeah--it depends.