I have never thought of myself as someone with a commitment problem. I am married. I have a child. I have a mortgage. I have worked at the same place for 8 years. I have supported the same football team for twenty years, in which they have only been good for about four. “Itchy feet” only apply to me if a mosquito has bitten me. So why do I have such a problem with finishing trilogies?
This hasn’t always been the case. I diligently read all seven ‘Harry Potter’ books. I demolished ‘The Hunger Games.’ As a child, I read ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ and its two lesser known follow-ups. Man, I’ve even read all four ‘Twilight’ novels – if “novels” isn’t too generous a classification. So why do I find myself unable to repeat this feat now, when I am reading more than ever?
The obvious reason is time. If you read the first paragraph and have an ounce of memory, you’ll remember that I am too busy to sustain a reading habit as seriously all-consuming as mine. Gone are the days of reading the entire oeuvre of a particular author in a weekend; instead, I am forced to read before I go to sleep or in the time it takes a nearly-three-year-old to watch ‘The Lion King’ (obviously, while occasionally glancing up to explain all the ways in which it parallels ‘Hamlet;’ “remember, my child, Rafiki is basically Polonius”). If something is going to take me a week to read then, realistically, I am not going to read it. And committing to a trilogy (or worse, a quadrilogy, which I am fairly sure is not a word) involves such a significant part of my precious reading time that I am reticent to pick one up in the first place.
There’s also the fact that all trilogies, particularly in the wildly popular YA dystopian genre, are basically the same. Book One: teens in peril. Probably a love triangle. Central mystery concerning origins/future of society. Book Two: Love triangle develops. Authority figure lectures protagonist. Mystery deepens. Book Three: everyone I like dies. I blame ‘The Hunger Games’ for this. Don’t get me wrong; I loved ‘The Hunger Games.’ But clearly it made everyone involved a boatload of cash and now all anyone wants to do is write ‘The Next Hunger Games:’ a compliment I have grown weary of reading on the cover of an innocent-looking paperback. A prime example is James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner.’ I liked the first book. I liked the second book. But, despite repeated attempts to read the third book, I just don’t have the motivation to get past page 30. I’m just not sure I actually care whether WICKED IS GOOD or not, or what Thomas had to do with designing the maze. It is entirely possible that I have actually already read the answers to these mysteries, which leads me on to my third issue with trilogies…
Is it reasonable for me to be expected to remember every detail of a book I read several months ago? Because, slightly embarrassingly, I appear to need a detailed revision sheet in order to read anything beyond the first in a series. I’ve read the first two in the ‘Divergent’ series, but, despite frankly superhuman efforts to remember what happened, I just can’t. Aside from this, I accidentally read a spoiler (thanks, Amazon reviewers) so I know what happens, which, I feel, would slightly diminish the third novel’s impact. Also, the premise of ‘Divergent’ is clearly ludicrous; why would anyone think that was a good idea? Having recently completed what was basically a psychometric test at work and discovering that I am pretty much divergent in actual real life, I cannot help but think it would be obvious to anyone that splitting society based on personality type would essentially lead to a situation very reminiscent of a sixth form common room. And there is a reason people only stay in those for two years.
I am also sick of being tricked into reading trilogies. Recent culprits of this unspeakable crime include ‘The Last Wild’ by Piers Torday, which gave no indication of being a series-starter until the final three pages; ‘Dorothy Must Die,’ which is basically 440 pages of exposition and then two with any reference to the blurb, and ‘After the Snow,’ which I only actually discovered today whilst in a bookshop is the first in a series. I thought it just had a really rubbish and inconclusive ending.
There is one trilogy I can’t bring myself to finish for a more physical reason. I read the first two of Patrick Ness’ ‘Chaos Walking’ series while pregnant and being violently ill every day. Now, every time I see the third one on my shelf, the memories are far too visceral. It is just too much to cope with.
Giving this some serious thought while making ice cream out of play dough for characters from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (ahh, life with a toddler), it occurred to me that I don’t have this problem with other forms of entertainment. I will happily watch any number of film series, particularly those made popular in the 1980s. I have watched every episode of ‘24,’ ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ Seven seasons of anything is a pretty hefty commitment: timewise, probably far longer than reading all three books in a YA dystopian series. And then the realisation hit me: watching things is a shared activity (admittedly, not one which allows for much conversation), while reading is a solitary exercise. Which is why I like it. And this is why my reading time is too important to waste it spending hours with characters I’m not invested in dealing with a situation I don’t care about. Or a political nightmare which I don’t actually understand. Seriously, is WICKED GOOD, or what?
I also felt better about myself when I glanced at my bookshelves and remembered that I have read Margaret Atwood’s ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy twice and actually enjoyed it. I am also one book into Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy and embarking on the second this evening. Shock news: 32 year old adult is more suited to novels aimed at 32 year old adults than endless chapters of teenage woes. Dammit; does this make me a grown-up?