Binge Reading

libraryI’ve become fascinated by the phenomenon of binge TV watching lately.

I mistakenly thought I was the only story-addict who sat up until the small hours of the morning watching episode after episode of an entire season of a particularly good TV show. Fringe is the first show I ever did that with, years and years ago, when Mark was still actively wrestling, and was on the road nearly every weekend, beating up other wrestlers for a living.

But even before that, when TV series would make seasons available on DVD, we would work our way through a whole season, night after night.

Being immersed in a story world for an extended period of time (and no ads!!) lets you appreciate the developing storylines even more because you don’t have to remember them from one week to the next, or remind yourself who xxx is when they turn up a couple of episodes later.

You also don’t have to wait for Christmas hiatuses to be done, or to find out what happens next when pulse-stopping cliffhangers are introduced.

There are a lot of reasons why binge-watching is great…

…but inhaling a very long and complicated story in as few sittings as possible is probably the overwhelming reason why I prefer to watch a whole season at a time.

I’ve watched Game of Thrones that way since it first aired and I’ll carefully avoid spoilers next month, until the fifth season is complete, then dive into watching it over three or four nights, to emerge blinking at the end of the week, a silly grin on my face.

These days, with the development of streaming and on-demand TV services (and torrents, for the rugged individualists), binge watching has become a way of absorbing stories for millions of viewers. There is so much great TV out there now, and the series/season format means that the stories being told are deep and complex. The characters can’t help but be well-developed and you get to know them inside out over the arc of a series.

I’m personally thrilled that nearly all TV series with any decent sense of story-telling has jettisoned the murder/mystery/romance/situation-of-the-week format, where one episode was almost completely stand-alone, with no reference to any other episode (which is where episodic story-telling got its name). Even new shows, once they’re established, a few episodes in will start pulling in back-story, and character backgrounds, secondary and interesting characters, and usually, an over-riding menace that threatens all the good guys in the series with dire consequences.

It makes series-watching compulsive

I love binge watching TV series. I find movies are becoming increasingly superficial in comparison, because there’s only so much back-story and character-filling you can do in 90 to 120 minutes, and special effects, the thing that separates movies from TV story-telling most often, tend to absorb a lot of screen-time.

I still like the big special effects movies (Lord of the Rings! Star Trek! Star Wars! Every comic character known to man, including, <sigh> Wolverine.) But I like them for the impression they leave, rather than the absorbing stories they tell.

Although, these days, with the number of deliberately planned trilogy movies and franchises (like the Avengers series of movies), more and more involved story-telling becomes possible. I suspect that the super successful movies of the future will combine incredible story with special effects and the advantages of the big screen in one fabulous gestalt. It’s no coincidence that some of the best and most successful movies of recent years have been based on novels (with their complex story lines) and have used the trilogy format to tell the complete story (Divergent, Hunger Games, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings…and Twilight, if you stretch the meaning of ‘trilogy’ to include more than three movies).

Of course, all these movies are available on disk or on streaming services. So you can watch all three (four) movies in one sitting, if you want. I’ve been doing exactly that every Christmas since the first Lord of the Rings movie came out on extended DVD. This Christmas, I’ll be adding another ten+ hours to the cycle: I’ll be adding all three The Hobbit extended editions to the viewing list.

Binge-watching is now an international past time among story-addicts.

bigger libraryThis brings me, finally, to binge reading.

I have no doubt that everyone who likes reading has, at least once, dived into a series or an author, and not come up for air until THE END was reached. Readers tend to shop for new books in this order:

  • Series I’m currently reading.
  • Author on my auto-buy list
  • New series by a trusted author.
  • Anything in my preferred genre that looks like it’s worth the risk.

Of course, once you’ve found a series you love, you can catch up with all the books currently published in the series quite quickly. Then you have to sit around waiting for the next book…which sometimes takes a year or more to be released.   Ugh.

I’ve binge-read a lot of series and author, especially when I was younger and had more spare time. The last series I remember binge-reading with the Twilight series, which I read inside three days. I also got through the first eleven books of the Anita Blake series in a matter of a week or two, before petering out. I like to acquire authors, and if I find one I like, I will quickly work through their backlist.

I suspect that this is the way most readers buy and read books.

What do I mean by binge-reading?

It’s the few hours or days when you do nothing but read, because you have to get to the end of the story. You put off your normal commitments and perhaps even call in sick (that is a high sign you’ve hit the perfect series!). You dump responsibilities and dates, ignore the growing pile of dishes in the sink, and live on peanut butter because it saves you from having to stop and get real food for yourself. Whenever you’re not reading, you’re thinking about the book.

You’re also thrilled that there’s more than one book in the series to read – a standalone would be a wrench. But even getting to the end of the currently published books (if the series is still being written) is painful.

I love binge reading, but don’t get to do it very often.

One of the best things about indie publishing is that indie authors are free to write the next book in a series as quickly as they can and publish it straight away.   No year long wait for a release date, and the slow, slow, turtle slow speed of production that legacy publishers use. As a result, indie authors can produce whole series at light speed.

Plus, indie titles are cheap – much cheaper than legacy books. I find these days that if I see a price for an ebook that has two digits, I veer away from it, and look for something else. The book has to be personally recommended to me before I’ll pay the price. Even then, my enjoyment is dulled because of it.

Theoretically, that means there should be more and more series appearing. With stories now heading for shorter, rather than longer, series with complicated story telling should get longer (i.e., more books per series).

That’s fine by me.

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