Why Everyone Should Read A Book Series Out of Order


“There is a right way and a wrong way to read a book series. The right way involves starting at the beginning and working through the books chronologically. This is best done when the reader still remembers all of the important plot points.

But I’ve never done things the right way.

I used to have this terrible habit of starting a book series somewhere in the middle. I never did this on purpose. In fact, the pattern cropped up as a result of laziness and impatience. In a time before ebooks, starting a series at the beginning could be difficult. Sometimes the library wouldn’t have the first book. Sometimes a bookstore would run out of stock. Sure, I could have put my name on a waiting list or gone to other shops, but 10 to 13 year old me didn’t want to do that. Instead, I made do with whatever book I could find. That practice had some…interesting results.”

Head over to Book Riot to read about some of the surprises and tragedies inherent in reading a book series out of order. 

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And let me know what you think of reading a series in the wrong way. Am I madwoman for enjoying it the way that I do? Possibly. But if so, I am an unrepentant one.


27 thoughts on “Why Everyone Should Read A Book Series Out of Order

      1. I look for spoilers when I don’t like where the story is going.

        More often than not, spoilers give me a different perspective , or I pay more attention to events or certain characters that readers ignore, when , in fact, their presence is very significant. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, one book by Philip Pullperson was enough to stop me reading any more.

    But it does intrigue me as to what the effect of reading the volumes of Proust in the wrong order might have. A book about memories the reader doesn’t actually have yet?

    Then I remembered there is a ‘book’ designed to be read in assorted orders. The very wonderful The Unfortunates, by B S Johnson. It comes in a box of loose-leaf chapters. Apart from the ones headed ‘First’ and ‘Last’, the rest can be shuffled and read in any order, as the author reminisces about visiting a thinly-disguised Nottingham to report on a football match, conjuring up memories of visiting a friend there, who died of cancer. Like our own memories (and as Proust often says) they do not come in chronological order; but the reader’s experience of the Johnson builds rmemories and relationships, depending on the shuffling. An event that is alluded to will either be one we recall or one that will only fully make sense when we read another chapter later on.

    I first heard of Johnson when I was a student. The BBC showed programme he made, at the end of which he lit a candle on a beach and pretended to walk out to sea and drown himself… a few weeks later, not pretending, he ended his life by slitting his wrists.

    Not a happy read, perhaps, but, with its concise, crisp, expressive English (maybe his having been a journalist is relevant), one that lives with you for a long time (or at least it does in the order I happened to read it).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! The idea of a book that is intended to be read in a flexible order is a fascinating one. After all, authors often spend a great deal of time determine the order of the plot, but by rearranging those plot points, the entire meaning of the narrative can change.


      1. Exactly. I always agree with the guy who said stories should have a beginning a middle and an end … just not necessarily in that order.
        Personally I dislike the idea of a ‘story’ or a plot. Writing needs a structure, but a ‘story’ is only one option, and the least interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I recently talked to a woman who reads the ending of a book first, then she goes to the beginning and reads the old fashioned way. Upon asking her “Good God, woman, doesn’t that absolutely kill the suspense?” (or the point of linear entertainment, such as most written work), phrased slightly more politely in deference to her age and to us not being friends, she responded she likes to know how something ends because then the journey towards that ending is more interesting, i.e. she’s more curious to know how the author will reach that ending … Not convinced, but whatever works, works! Reading and enjoying is what matters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed! I think I immediately asked her about crime/murder mysteries and she said she read those ending-first too. Curious, but interesting. Opens up a whole new vista and line of thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Normally I am a stickler for reading things in order, but as I read your list it made more sense. I’ve read all the series in your list and would mostly agree with your conclusions.

    For The Queen of Attolia I also read that one first! About ten years later when I came across the first book I was very mad at how everyone treated the poor Queen. I actually read His Dark Materials in backwards order (3, 2, 1) initially and it didn’t make too much sense. Obsidian Butterfly is the best Anita Blake novel, the ones after it aren’t really novels, and the ones before have a different type of plot. Lirael would entirely make sense to read first, especially for a bibliophile, but Abhorsen wouldn’t make any sense without Lirael.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it fascinating that you ended up reading ‘The Queen of Attolia’ first as well! I wonder if there is a secret club of us lurking about. Overall I was definitely luck with the books/and series that I ended up grabbing and reading out of order. It could have ended with much less happy results. (Of course maybe I have simply blocked out all of the times when I tried to read a series the wrong way and ended up hating the books.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think some series you can read out of order because the books stand up really well alone or can be read as a standalone but at the same time being part of a series, Tana French books are great for this! But in general reading books in the order they are written is the way I like to do it. Interesting topic, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perfectly fair! Some book series are fairly episodic and others have a number of complex layers that cause the reader to benefit from having read books in the intended order. Reading things in the ‘wrong’ way certainly puts a spin on the narrative!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think it is the mark of a good writer to enable readers to read books in a series out of order – but that does depend on the length of the series! It should definitely be do-able in a trilogy but I recently read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves without having read The Raven Boys first, & I found it really difficult to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I regularly crash midway into series. Still. But, like you, I do think that authors should expect readers to do so – Life simply isn’t sufficiently tidy to be able to read everything in order. And Netgalley, bless their hearts, isn’t all that up front about flagging that a book is part of a series. The late great Terry Pratchett always structured his Discworld novels such that you could start at the first one, or twenty one and you wouldn’t flounder too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the Discworld books are great ones to read this way! (Which is good because their are so many of them.)

      I’ve also stumbled across the NetGalley issue of mistakenly ending up with the third or fourth book in a series, and for some reason that makes me grumpier than when I accidentally pull a middle book off of the shelves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes… they really don’t signpost whether a book is part of a series. That said, I’m not going to gripe too much about that one as I’ve picked up some awesome reads and wonderful authors I probably wouldn’t have selected if I’d known.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t say I’ll never read a series out of order. But I’ll always try to read it in order. Sometimes I’m just trying to try a series out, and that might mean I read a book in the middle, but I almost never finish those series.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If I find out that a book I want to read is part of a series I try to at least read the first one in the series to familiarise myself with the characters. If the book I want to read is book 3 or 4, I might jump to it after I’ve read book 1. When I don’t do that I feel like I’ve missed something when I’m reading.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is a good system! Some series have some may books that it can be intimidating to jump into them – do I really want to read 4 other books just so that I can read book 5? – but yours method of reading the first book then allowing yourself to jump around a bit is great. Much more flexible.


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