Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Series Or the Missing Books

I am sitting at my computer in New York searching the online card catalog of my library.  Julie is in Massachusetts, sitting at her computer and looking at the online card catalog of her library.  And every time I come across something I’d absolutely love to read, a little window pops up on Julie’s screen saying something to the effect of, “this is absolutely amazing.  The imagery is gorgeous and it made me cry.” Or, “damn it! Why do they never have the first book in the series!”  And Julie will type something back to me along the lines of, “Let me see if I can inter-library loan it.”  Or, “I know!  The third and the fifth aren’t much good without the first.” 

What can be determined from these brief examples of our conversation is that (1) we read a great deal, (2) we prefer to read our series in the correct order, and (3) public libraries have a terrible habit of buying books with no regard to their order in a series.  This last conclusion is the most important of you are a public librarian.  If you are a public librarian, I suggest that you do a complete sweep of your library and fill in the gaps currently present in your series.  This means that if you own the third and fifth books in a series (which I have found to be the most common volumes in most libraries), you must buy the first, second, and fourth books in the series. 

Now, if you find that your search is not turning up these anomalies in your collection, I suggest that you skip ahead to science fiction and fantasy, where this problem seems to be an epidemic.  If you are still finding that all the volumes in a series are present in your collection, you are either not looking correctly and should therefore find a nerdy teenager to help, or you should be congratulated for actually buying books in the correct order.

To be fair to librarians, book buyers, and booksellers, I will admit that some authors do make it awfully difficult to keep a series in order.  For example, why does the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy by Douglas Adams have five volumes?  And is C.S. Lewis’ the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe the first book in the Narnia series, or the second?  The answer to the first question is you should never trust science fiction writers as their minds spend most of the day in outer space or on other planets.  The second answer: we wanted answers as to Narnia, and we got them in the form of a prequel.  As The Magician’s Nephew is delightful story, and answers our questions, you should not complain about so inconsequential a problem as the order of the books. 

As to the problem of figuring out what books in a series your collection is missing, the answer is quite easy to find.  If you are anti-computers, I would suggest going directly to the root of the problem: the books themselves.  Most, if not all, books in a series will display their position in a series on the spine, the cover, or inside the book on a page listing other books by the author.  If, like me, you are sitting at your computer, or if the numerical information cannot be found on the book, Amazon is your next best bet. 

I adore Amazon.  Yes, I know it is a mega-corporation that will someday beat out all the lovely little independent bookstores, but I still love it.  You can find everything, and I mean everything, even the out-of-print lovelies you thought you’d never seen again and the books that won’t actually be released for a few weeks.  But I’m sidetracking.  You can search any and everything on Amazon.  So, the simple way to find the gaps in your collection is to plug in the author or title of the books you are searching, and bing! Up will pop a nice window giving all the information you could ever wish to know about the book, including if it is in a series, and then you can even find the other books in the series.  And, get this, you don’t even have to launch another search- generally, you can just click a link.  Sometimes I do love technology. Just think, you could order the book, have it in less than a week, and have it on the shelf…. Oh, yeah.  I forgot about the process part of actually getting the book on the shelf…but I’ll deal with that later. According to the web, my library actually has the first in a series Julie recommended….  

1 comment:

  1. Here, here! I spent years trying to find book 8 of David Wingrove's "Chung Kuo" series. It had a much smaller circulation and for the longest time all I could find were $200 copies on used/rare book sites (for a book published in 1999). Finally found it at a UW library, ten years after I started reading the series :-P.