People who know books often talk about what is popular, what used to be popular, what should or shouldn’t be popular . . . and why. You can find the discussion in newspapers, on blogs, in magazines, and, every once in a while, books make it to the flickering TV screen as well. One of the most fascinating things that only readers seem to discuss is the process of “The Breakup.”
It mostly happens with fiction, but not always; I’ve certainly heard of readers giving up completely on self-help books, Civil War biographies, political criticisms, and everything else.
And within fiction, it mostly happens with series, but not always. Perhaps a reader will be tired of an author’s particular style, or penchant for wordiness and long books. Or will be tired that an author always has the Russians (or Jihadists, or The Man™) as the antagonist of a series. There are as many reasons a breakup can occur as there are readers and/or things to read. But, speaking generally, I most often hear the breakup label used in reference to readers giving up on a series.
Sometimes the breakups are benign. Perhaps a reader was interested or curious in a series that failed to hold his or her interest beyond a library checkout or two. No harm, no foul. Not so much a breakup as, well, a few dates before I realize you’re not the one for me. Maybe it’s an author you already like but this new series isn’t ringing your bell. Sometimes it's an author you should like, but can’t seem to get in to.
Other times, the breakup is all about the financials. An author moves a series from paperback to hardback and that could be the end. I didn’t mind hanging out with you for $7.99, but $26.99 makes me question the depth of my commitment to you. It’s not you, it’s me. My wallet, actually, but you understand, right? When the breakup is financial, a reader will often continue the series with the help of the public library. Nothing personal, right, I just can’t afford you anymore, but we’re still friends. I’m still interested in what is going on in your life. Let’s keep in touch, eh?
And then there are the other times. Whether it is fatigue, disgust, or something in between, the breakup is because something is broken between the author and the reader. It’s the series that started out as a trilogy and is now on book eleventy-seven (11ty7) and is no closer to an ending than it was in book 3. Will she or won’t she? Do you even care anymore? Shouldn’t she be so old by now the question becomes CAN she or CAN’T she? It’s the series that, even though the plots seem to change, uses a formula as routine as the yearly release date. Hairspray? Check. Donuts? Check. Hamster? Check. Impatiently patient boyfriend? Yes. Too-hot-for-you former/future lover? Yes. Black girl sidekick wearing clothes that are too small, carrying a gun, and eating fried chicken? Check! Interest? Not so much anymore.
But even then, even when you didn’t like the last book, rarely is a book relationship severed with any kind of surgical precision. It more resembles a hacksaw as you try to hang on to whatever you can of the feelings you once had. After all, there was a time when you would have paid full cover price, run to the bookstore on release day, stood in an author line to gush about the character/plot point/dialogue line that made your day. Now, those same books in the bookstore fill you with fury. What the hell has the author done to my favorite characters? WHY the hell didn’t anyone stop her before she wrote again? Doesn’t he read his own backlist?! When a new book in the series comes out, webpages, blogs, and Twitter streams can become full of frothy anger—which is sometimes fun, I won’t lie. As a reader who has been known to get heavily invested in a series only to have it turn to rubbish, I have felt this pain before. For me, along with most of my friends, the words “Anita Blake” have a definite summer and winter season. The winter of our discontent has been endless. It has been so bad that my not hating a recent book was worthy of comment!
Of course, there will be people who say you shouldn’t get so involved with books. Or they’ll say it’s silly to invest so much of your time and/or emotional energy into something that means so little to you personally. And while they’re free to say that, it’s really not something that a reader has any control over. Books move people. They always have. That is a book’s job, after all: to engage the reader.
And it isn’t always the author’s fault. I mean, Candyland™ was my favorite game as a kid, and now it isn’t. That isn’t the game’s fault. Time to move on. Books, authors, and series aren’t any different. Authors do what they do and we can either follow or say goodbye. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t, change how we felt when we were still in love. That series, at that time, was exactly the right series of books.