Saturday, July 11, 2015

Starting in the Middle of Everything

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday, in the comments section of James Reasoner’s Forgotten Book entry (Crisis on Multiple Earths, a collection of Justice League/Justice Society crossover stories from the 60s), one of the commenters noted that, with so much history behind these events, it might be daunting to jump in and start. Non-expert that I am, I assured him that, at least with the 1960s and 1970s material, the author’s rarely left readers in the lurch. The writers and editors would find a way to make sure every issue had enough back story so that new readers could quickly catch up but not so much to annoy regular readers. To paraphrase Stan Lee himself, every issue of a comic will likely be someone’s first issue.

Over the recent decades of comics—let’s say 25 years—there has been many attempts by DC and Marvel to write The Big Story, The Big Crossover, The Big Event That Will Shatter Everything You Know. Great. Fantastic. I love it. But it can serve as a barrier to the general reader who might’ve watched Iron Man or The Dark Knight in theaters and is curious enough to want to put a toe in the comic ocean. It *can* be daunting. Heck, I’m a lifelong comic reader and I find just keeping up daunting.

The same is true for series novels. About a decade ago, when I began to read crime and mystery fiction, I faced a similar dilemma as the commenter from yesterday’s post: where to start. Here’s how it usually went for me. I’d be in a bookstore and a cover of a book would catch my eye. I’d pick it up, read the blurb, and usually like what I read. However, I’d learn that it was, say, book 4 of a series. More often than not, at that time, I’d put that new book down and seek out book 1. I never wanted to start a series with the latest book. I always wanted to start a series from the beginning.

And you know what? I’d almost never get to that book I initially noticed.**

That has led me, in recent years, to a new way of buying books: buy the book that I notice no matter the series order. Why? Because something caught my eye and I figured there’s a reason now I want to read it. If the novel is good, I’ll go back and catch up. I think most authors have enough of the idea that “Every book might be someone’s first book” to spice in past events (for the newbies) but not so much for the brand-new readers.

So, what do y’all do when you see a new book that’s not the start of a series? Do you read the new book or start from the beginning? And, does the number of books play a factor? That is, if the new book is book 9, do you ever start from book 1 and read’em all?

*In an interesting bit of timing, I’m actually re-reading my favorite JLA/JSA crossover from 1982. This one includes a third team, All-Star Squadron, and it spanned 5 issues over two titles. The story itself actually referenced a story from 1942.

**The only exception was Clive Cussler’s Isaac Bell series. I first noticed the cover for The Race, figured out it was a series, went back to book 1, and read through The Race up to the current book. LOVE that series.

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