RARA-AVIS: Series novels (was Re: Writing the same book, over and over )

From: Doug Bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 05 Dec 2003

Mr. Archer wrote:

> Yeah, well, I can understand liking a book/author
> for the overall
> experience, and enjoying visiting the world created,
> even if, or perhaps,
> because, it's familiar, yet interesting and
> evocative. I read a couple of
> Burke's; liked them; then said: "Okay, been there,
> done that." When I read a
> new book by someone I've read before and think, half
> way through, maybe I've
> read it before, that's when I realize I've grown
> tired of their schtick.
> Part of it is marketing, in that publishers want
> series characters that
> 'lock in' a certain fan base; and many readers enjoy
> the familiarity of the
> series. I enjoyed Stout's Nero Wolfe, knowing that
> what I was going to read
> was sure to be familiar in many details. I never
> took the stories
> 'seriously', that is, I read them as clever
> diversions, not in any way a
> seriously intriguing literary experience, which is
> where I might put Burke,
> for ex. Same with most of Christie. Cute, but not
> any meat to them. Souffle,
> rather than stew.

I do think the worth of a series has to be evaluated in the context of the whole series. Volumes can ebb and flow in quality, for one thing, sometimes relatively late in the game: which would you rather read, McBain's COP HATER or SADIE WHEN SHE DIED? Ross M's THE MOVING TARGET or THE FAR SIDE OF THE DOLLAR? And of course it's not unusual for serious artists in the genre to write formulaic series: Ross Macdonald leaps to mind; it's been a long time since I read him but I'd guess Simenon fits in there, too.

You're right that there's a difference between what Stout was trying to do and what Chandler, say, was trying to do. I'll go along with "one is a soufflee and one is a stew", too. I guess I'm also saying that you can eat them both. Stout certainly wasn't the literary artist Chandler was; that didn't make him bad or his books not worth reading. Even at it's most down and dirty level (Edward S. Aarons's Sam Durrell series, say) I'd argue that "formulaic", while something worth noting, doesn't really tell you much about whether a book is worth reading, just as bad lyrics don't necessarily tell you whether a rock song's any good.

my two cents.


===== Doug Bassett dj_bassett@yahoo.com

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