I’ll never forget the first time I cracked the caramelized crust of a crème brûlée, scooped up the creamy mixture hiding underneath and tasted it.
What I remember most vividly is that for weeks afterward, I was gripped by intermittent, intense cravings, my body saying: You know that fantastic stuff you ate the other night? Get more!
Sometimes you just have to listen to your body, and to the obsessive-compulsive brain that’s directing it. I happily complied. Satisfying a craving can be pure bliss.
Well, I think that what’s true for the stomach is also true for readers. Perhaps even more so. Discovered by accident or recommended by a ranting and raving friend in the grips of literary addiction, a good series is an unadulterated delight.
The compulsion to binge affects readers of all ages and interests. It unites us all. Certainly, everyone in my family (except my husband, who seems immune) devoured each of the Harry Potter novels as though gripped by a fever. It says a lot that along with the full online list of titles of JK Rowling’s magnum opus, TIME magazine provided reading suggestions for “Curing Harry Potter Withdrawal”.
Is there such a thing as reasonable book binging?
Who cares? One person’s respectable choice is another’s guilty pleasure.
Some series are designed to be addictive, I think. Tops on the list are detective and mystery novels. Once you start following Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s “alphabet series”, how do you stop? How can you not become attached to detectives like V.I. Warshawski, or Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, and want to keep an eye on them as you would a family member?
We all have our favourites, and we’re devoted to following and suffering with them through every case they solve and survive. Mine is Inspector John Rebus, the wonderfully authentic and compelling main character of Ian Rankin’s terrific Scottish series. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon him, but once we were introduced, I binged on his cases for weeks. I’m pretty sure that I read at least the first five or six books in a row before coming up for air. I feel like I’ve been to Edinburgh myself.
And then there’s Kurt Wallander, who came into my life speaking French, because the Henning Mankell series became popular in France before it reached North America, and was easy to find.
Becoming hooked works a little like substance abuse: that is, when someone—a reader who has found a new series and is binging on it like popcorn—feels compelled to tell you, urge you, pester you into trying it.
I know that my two eldest sons would both make a case for the adrenaline-fueled, irresistible, un-put-downable qualities of James Rollins thrillers. Especially his SIGMA FORCE series, which they passed back and forth before lending out beat up paperback copies like literary pushers.
I’ve only read Sandstorm so far, but I can see how addictive the Sigma Force novels could become. They’re fast-paced, action packed and full of all kinds of well researched techno-scientific gadgets and esoterica. Oh! And brave, brawny, brainy and heroic men of course. And plenty of villains too.
I’ve so far resisted the allure of more Rollins novels, but one of my sons wouldn’t leave well enough alone, and introduced me next to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Oh dear.
Harry Dresden, Butcher’s tall, dark, handsome, wry and utterly decent scoundrel and hero is a private eye who walks and talks like he stepped right out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Except that he’s also a wizard, who possesses exceptional and terrifying magical gifts.
I finished the first novel, Storm Front, a month ago and loved it. Like any binge-worthy book, I was through it in two days. It was everything my son said it would be. It was FUN.
This is where I envy you. If I indulge the inner voice urging me to read at least three or four more Dresden Files novels as soon as possible, I’ll feel great, but my posts here at the Online Book Club will soon become pretty repetitive.
But just because I can’t yet satisfy my craving doesn’t mean that you can’t be completely unreasonable, so why not give it a try?
Here are two other binge series that I never would have found without help. The first is Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mystery collection. Recommended to me by a close friend, Amelia was still a long shot, because though my friend basically just loves a great story, her tastes lean a lot more toward fantasy and science fiction than mine do.
But when she spoke about Amelia Peabody, her face seemed to brighten and she couldn’t help herself, she grinned like a kid and started describing Amelia’s latest adventures and laughed and laughed.
Amelia’s fantastic: part shrew, part daredevil and part feminist, she’s also a late Victorian romantic and passionate Egyptologist.
The second series is, I think, a lot less known, but certainly beloved by its readers. It’s Candace Robb’s Owen Archer medieval murder mysteries. Robb’s protagonist is a handsome Welshman who returns from the French wars wearing an eye patch and carrying hidden wounds. He finds a wife and new life as a spy. He also finds danger and intrigue.
I loved every book of this series. I only wish there were more.
This is the sad part of binge series: eventually, you come to the end of the supply, and must say goodbye. As does a cherished character’s creator.
I suppose that there’s nothing left to do, then, but read them all over again, or better, find a new trove.
But try to be strategic.
My Amelia Peabody loving friend Lise discovered her when she was first published. What Lise experienced was the joy of anticipating each new adventure as it came out. She couldn’t have known how many books there would eventually be, so each was pure treasure.
But her devotion to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series would have stretched my patience way beyond its limits. Just as with Amelia Peabody, Lise began reading The Wheel of Time books as they were published. Well: it took 14 novels, 22 years, 11 months and 24 days for the series to reach its conclusion. That isn’t binge reading: it’s a marathon!
(Sadly, the Wheel of Time epic outlasted its author, and had to be finished by Brandon Sanderson.)
There are so many wonderful series out there to binge on: do you have any recommendations?