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Dave Astor

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Reading Harry Potter and Other Multi-Volume Works in One Big Gulp

Posted: 07/15/11 01:06 PM ET

Ah, the pleasure of perusing a book series after all the installments have been written.

That positive thought came to mind with the July 15 release of the final Harry Potter film. I first read the Harry Potter saga when each book was published and, like zillions of other people, loved all seven novels. But it was torture waiting a year or more for the next installment. Also, I would lose track of some clues and forget some of the foreshadowing.

It was a different experience rereading J.K. Rowling's books last fall, one after another. No delayed gratification, and I could spot and remember the sometimes-subtle building blocks used by the author to construct her story and bring it to a breathtaking and moving conclusion.

I did miss the element of surprise that comes with reading a great book or book series for the first time. But the pleasure of a second, compressed go-around was considerable.

In several other cases, I read a book series for the first time in one big gulp long after every installment was completed. That was either because the author had died before I was born, or because I was late discovering her or his work.

Authors in the deceased category include Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers and sequels such as Twenty Years After and L.M. Montgomery, who wrote Anne of Green Gables and sequels such as Anne of the Island. It was great to quickly find out what happened to the musketeers later in their lives, and to almost immediately learn how the young Anne would fare as an adult.

I also enjoyed zooming through John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and its Sweet Thursday sequel in the same week, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the same month.

More recent novels? I loved reading Cormac McCarthy's violent but lyrical "Border Trilogy" back to back to back -- experiencing the sagas of John Grady Cole in All the Pretty Horses, Billy Parham in The Crossing, and Cole and Parham in Cities of the Plain. Those three books were published over a six-year period between 1992 and 1998, but I read them for the first time within a two-month span in 2011.

I had read The Handmaid's Tale soon after it came out in 1985, but didn't get to Margaret Atwood's other books until this winter. So I had the privilege of devouring her interrelated speculative novels Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009) within the same month rather than a "Border Trilogy"-like six years apart.

And then there's the experience of reading sequels to time-traveling books without too much time passing. Darryl Brock's delightful 1990 baseball saga If I Never Get Back (in which a 20th-century man ends up in 1869) was followed by 2002's Two in the Field (in which Sam Fowler goes back in time again to try to find his 1869 soul mate and runs into General Custer). I compressed that 12-year publishing gap by reading both books last fall.

It was similar for Jack Finney's 1970 Time and Again (which also involved a modern-day man going back to the 1800s) and the 1995 sequel From Time to Time (in which Simon Morley does more time-traveling and finds himself on -- gulp -- the Titanic). The first book was a haunting tour de force, the second so-so, but it was wonderful to read them consecutively rather than a quarter-century apart.

You also may have multi-sequel sagas you've loved perusing in one fell swoop, or perhaps you prefer spacing things out more.

For me, reading a book series after all the installments have been written is as satisfying as watching a great Quidditch match. Well, almost.