Series Books: An Exercise in Waiting

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 25th, 2014

There’s not much delayed gratification for privileged Americans these days. Technology has spoiled us so much that we feel frustrated if a website takes a few extra seconds to load or we have to bake a potato in the oven instead of the microwave. The few things we can’t access 24/7 via the internet — or influence the timing of — include tides, the weather, the motion of the planets, and someone else’s creative process.

I’m as much a product of modern convenience as the next person—maybe even more so, since I grew up with a Dad who leapt to test out the next new gadget or gizmo: Pong, laser discs, holographic sculptures, Space Food Sticks. (I know!) So waiting is not always my strong suit. When I discover something terrific — the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, say, or Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, or, this week’s yearning for book 2 of Sally Green’s Half Bad series — I want the next installment right away. Internally, I’m stamping my impatient feet.

Soon, we’ll be able to 3D print a new pair of shoes for those feet right at home. But we still won’t be able to rush an author, and that’s a good thing. Even though it’s hard to wait, there’s something important about delayed gratification. We value what we wait for. We get to experience the deliciousness of anticipation. And waiting is a humbling reminder that we are not the architects of our own little worlds, as much as we may try to be. Back in the glory days of buildup to a new Harry Potter book, kids would complain about the wait for each volume. Their desire for the new story was so intensely felt, they would vibrate with it. I’d say, “Think of it this way: You are the only generation that gets to experience this excitement. The midnight parties and predictions about what will happen to the characters… this worldwide anticipation… will never happen again in the history of the universe, and you get to be here for it!” I don’t know how much it helped assuage the agonized longing, but it was true, and I think at least some of the older kids appreciated it. (Of course, I was also playing to the desire for specialness, their own echoes of Harry-Potter destiny, and don’t think I didn’t know it. But, it was still true.) It will be the equivalent of the old codger whining at kids about having to walk two miles to school in a blizzard with no shoes. “Back in my day, we had to wait three years before we could read The Order of the Phoenix. THREE YEARS!”

So I was extremely pleased to suffer at the end of the aforementioned Half Bad by Sally Green. I had picked up the ARC a while ago, and put it down for a bit because it starts off dark, and I wasn’t sure I was up for reading about a maltreated boy who is kept in an outdoor cage. I am often drawn to dark books, but cruelty has never been easy for me to stomach, so I kept my distance. But the bookseller buzz was so strong — there really is nothing as effective as word of mouth! — I gave it another chance, and this time, I was hooked. Without going into too much spoiler material, the main character is a young male witch coded as a dangerous Half White Half Black Witch. (The full implications of the racial overtones built into those terms, “white” and “black,” remain to be seen; we suspect that the maligned Black Witches may be persecuted than persecuting, but by the end of book 1, while we know that many of the White Witches are truly evil, we still don’t know for sure what the story is with the Black Witches.)

This blog post is not intended to be a book review but a discussion of frustration, so I will end here and merely ask, How do you approach a new series? Do you wait until all the books (or TV episodes) are out before even beginning? Or do you, like me, enjoy the anticipation? And what, pray tell, are you waiting for right now?