Making pleasure last: trilogies, quartets, and series in fiction

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No reader who’s ever devoured a book series needs to be convinced of the thrill: when you finish #1 and #2, #3 is waiting in the wings! And most avid readers can name at least a few beloved trilogies, quartets, or series. (If you’ve ever talked to a “POB”—Patrick O’Brien—fan, you know that series-readers are alive and well and obsessing.)

Every generation of readers has its childhood favorites. My own favorite series were Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames (a nurse!), and Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers. My friend Richard Esparza loved the Tom Swift series. Lots of my women friends are still devoted to Louisa May Alcott’s most famous trio: Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys.

I’m afraid that any of these old series might be laughable to a twenty-first-century child, but whatever gets you reading is the book (or series) that counts.

Fortunately, one grows up and reads better books. Or not: In my twenties (twenties!) my then best friend and I got hooked on the Jalna books (also called the Whiteoaks Chronicles), by Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche. Recently I was wandering the fiction stacks in the New York Society Library and discovered that the Jalna series was right there on the shelf.

Excited, I pulled out a couple of the earliest volumes in the series, which eventually ran to sixteen books published between 1929 and 1960. They were very nearly unreadable. How on earth did we get so addicted back in the early 1970s? I’ll eat my shoe if any other reader out there has even heard of Jalna.

Book series are nothing unusual these days (Harry Potter, anyone?); there’s a good sf/fantasy series list on the io9 website, and mystery fans should take a look at FictFact’s mystery list, “Most Popular Book Series by Genre.”

But even if we ignore the sf/fantasy/mystery/thrillers groups for now, there are wonderful series of novels that will suck you in and keep you enthralled for book after book. Try some of these for your winter reading. They should get you through quite a few storms, mental or climatological.

  • The Old Filtha trilogy by Jane Gardam
  • The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durell
  • The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy, by Nick Bantock
  • The Regeneration Trilogy, by Pat Barker
  • The Bounty Trilogy, by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall
  • U.S.A., a trilogy by John Dos Passos
  • Earth’s Children, by Jean Auel
  • The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster
  • Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for this historical trilogy
  • The Trees, The FieldsThe Town, a trilogy by Conrad Richter, about frontier life in Ohio
  • The Raj Quartet, by Paul Scott
  • The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett
  • Chronicles of Barchester and the Palliser novels, by Anthony Trollope
  • The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies
  • The Cazelet Chronicle, a quintet by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
  • the Schmidt novels, by Louis Begley
  • the Rabbit novels, by John Updike
  • the Neopolitan novels, by Elena Ferrante

Thanks so much to friends who contributed their ideas for this post: Melissa Miles; Jane Ciabattari; Karen Baar; Marialisa Calta; Karen Wunsch; Barbara Garber; Richard Esparza; Sharon Javna.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY

Boneshaker Books, Minneapolis, MN

Children’s Book World, Haverford, PA

 

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