Inspired by the release of the last installment in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, we focus this month’s Essentials list on series — those groups of books that entertain and enchant us volume after volume, read after read. Here are some of the series that take up a cherished wide spot on our bookshelves.
To start us off, Violeta Garcia-Mendoza, Literary Reflections Assistant Editor, writes : “I’m a big fan of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular: Harry Potter series. For one thing, anything that inspires crowds at bookstore, ‘reading is magic’ bracelets, and readers literally cheering for 500 page books is nothing short of fantastic! Hubbub aside, the books offer page-turning, make-you-gasp plot twists, dazzling imagination and heart-pounding adventure, and enough emotional and philosophical resonance for fans of all ages.”
In introducing her essential series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Shannon LC Cate, Ezine Editor, quotes Lemony Snicket: “In my experience, well read people are less likely to be evil.” Cate got hooked on the books “Right before my first baby came home… I read the series voraciously, anxiously awaiting the new books as they came out and devouring the peripheral fictional autobiography of Lemony Snicket while waiting. The books are the story of the three Baudelaire siblings, orphaned when a fire destroys their home — and supposedly their parents — while they are away. Throughout the series, the children are shuffled between guardians in an attempt to find a safe and stable place to grow up. Instead of finding it, they begin to uncover an increasingly complex plot, eventually placing their parents and their fictional biographer, Lemony Snicket, at the center of international intrigue. There are so many things I love about these books (which are aimed at a middle school audience, but I imagine could be enjoyable read-aloud books for younger children as well) it’s hard to know where to start. They unapologetically heroicize the intellectual, while poking gentle fun at the intelligentsia. They introduce SAT-level vocabulary words by the refrain “which is a word that means here…” without ever coming across as didactic, and they throw in many adult jokes about current affairs and politics while never interrupting the flow or sense of the story for children. The plots are complex and clever and resolve in each book while always leaving the meta plot a mystery to be pursued in the next installment. To me, this series has the potential to bring generations together with bated breath, waiting to see what next unexpected turn of plot will bring.”
Sharon Kraus, Poetry Editor, also writes about a series for the whole family, “I just finished reading with my son (age 7) the sixth book in Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone series. We turned to them when we were looking for alternatives to dear Harry (being a little hesitant to read, e.g., images of a boy being forced to scratch “I will not tell lies” in his skin): the Charlie Bone books have a less macabre tone, yet with a nicely detailed cast of characters and fantastic settings. Nimmo is good at holding a reader’s attention, and beyond the struggle between good and evil, she reaches for complex character motivations and believable loyalties.”
Caroline Grant, Literary Reflections Editor, names Madeleine L’Engle as “one of those writers whose books have carried me through a few different stages of life. I loved her Austin family books when I was little, and reread her “Time Trilogy” annually when I was a bit older. I found L’Engle again as an adult, reading her Crosswicks Journal series meditations on faith, family, and marriage, and found a passage from The Irrational Season to read at my wedding.”
Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Coeditor, writes “Philip Pullman is best known for the terrific His Dark Materials trilogy, but I’m recommending his lesser known series, the Sally Lockhart Quartet. These books are page-turning, Victorian dramas, featuring a strong heroine determined to solve the mystery of her father’s death, a chillingly evil villain, true (egalitarian!) love, tragedy, excitement, adventure, mysterious jewels and daring escapes. Whew! Sally Lockhart is a wonderful, feminist protagonist; I wish I’d had these books to read as a teen (they are classified as YA), but I’m happy to read and re-read them as an adult.”
Kathy Moran, Literary Reflections Assistant Editor, nominates Jamie Langston Turner’s novels, which “while not a formal series, are set in the same fictional community and loosely intertwine various characters’ lives, making it possible to read any book without having read the others. Turner, a creative writing and literature professor, weaves passages from a vast number of novelists, poets, and playwrights into her plots. My favorites are Some Wildflower in My Heart and By the Light of a Thousand Stars. As I read, I kept a list of the titles and authors Turner alludes to, creating a quite a reading list!”
Finally, Amy Hudock, Editor-in-Chief, writes of the virtues of series-as-guilty-pleasure. “I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Having gone to high school in NJ, I ‘get’ Stephanie Plum. I was largely raised in the South and identify as a southerner; nontheless, I like to think that Stephanie Plum is the Jersey girl that is still somewhere in me. Stephanie Plum races through her bounty hunter job with remarkable strength, perseverance, and gritty humor — and she does it looking good even though she is fueled by Tastycakes and donuts. Sometimes inept and fumbling, she still gets the job done through sheer will and plenty of good luck. The staff of supporting characters also keep me entertained — a racy, gun-toting grandmother, a bad boy cop sometimes boyfriend, a mysterious bounty hunter sometimes lover, a cross-dressing rocker, a niece who thinks she is a horse, and many more. The tight writing, sharp wit, and lively dialogue keep me coming back for more. I’ve had to put down the book at times because I was laughing too hard to hold it anymore. I’ve read 13 volumes in the series so far, and as long as Evanovich keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading ’em.”