Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading Binges!

There are eating binges, drinking binges, shopping binges and of course, reading binges.

I got the idea for this post from a piece I read (not sure where) on some one's binge reading of Henry James as a school project. Binge reading. Have you ever done it? I'm assuming we all have at some point or other, especially those of us who read constantly.

But just in case by some remote possibility you've never tried it, here's how it works: Pick an author, any author. It could be someone you've just discovered or someone you've been meaning to read. Get your hands on as many books by this author as you can find. Then sit back and begin reading and don't stop until you get to the last book. Simple.

It's kind of pathologically intense, but hey, if you can't be pathological once in a while - what's the point?

As with anything that seems too easy, there are pit falls of course. I'll come to those in a moment.

I am currently 'sort-of' binge reading the books of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Not that easy to do since most of her books are out of print and hard to get. But my library had a few and I brought most of them home with me a few days ago.

I admit it's harder to binge now because I need to keep reading other stuff for the sake of my blog.

A few of the authors I've binged on in the past:

Ngaio Marsh. Last year, some time before I began blogging, I began a Ngaio Marsh binge. For about 6-8 weeks or so, I read nothing but Ngaio Marsh's books until I'd exhausted the available supply. This Golden Age Grande Dame wrote quite a few books, so it was an especially lengthy binge. I had a great time hanging out with Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Roderick Allyn and catching up on a lot of terrific mysteries I'd probably read years ago but had totally forgotten.

I tried to read them in order of publication as best I could, because there are changes that occur in Allyn's life and I wanted to get the full emotional flavor.

I'm convinced that, for me, this was the best way to get reacquainted with an author I'd mostly forgotten about. And I admit, I was totally impressed with her talent and how good a writer she really was. I loved most of the stories and loved living in her characters' world for several weeks. In fact, it was hard at the end, to walk away.

Dick Francis. I didn't discover Dick Francis until a few years ago although I was familiar with his name and the fact he wrote mystery/thrillers. The first Francis I picked up and read was TO THE HILT which features an artist as the main character - an artist who paints golf courses as a metaphor for life. Well, once I saw this, I had to read it. I love an artist protagonist.

I also love horses and the milieu of horse farms, the race track, etc. Though in this book, the horse aspects are in the background as they are in many of Francis' books.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I knew I'd struck gold. In those days my budget allowed for book splurges, so I calmly went to Barnes and Noble and bought every Dick Francis paperback they had in stock and what they didn't have, I ordered. I remember the sales clerk looking oddly at me, but did I care? Nah.

Then, for the next few weeks, I read nothing but Dick Francis. I was a Dick Francis book fiend. to this day I don't regret a moment of it. I loved those books and still do. Loved them so much I have a bunch of them in hardcover on my living room bookshelves. Ready for the moment when I get the urge to read any of them again.

Robert Crais. You've read how much I love R.C.'s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books. Well, it all began years ago when I was NOT a thriller reader at all. For whatever reason, I picked up Crais' book, VOODOO RIVER at the bookstore and then turned around and bought every Crais I could get my hands on. Sound familiar?

There are just enough Elvis and Joe books that you can easily get immersed in their world of violent crime and retribution in Los Angeles. But it's the do-or-die friendship between Elvis and Joe that I will never tire of reading about.

Stuart Kaminsky. I read all the Toby Peters books I could get my hands on and believe me they were not all easy to find. Kaminsky had been writing for years and had tremendous output, especially in this humorous series set in the Los Angeles of the 1940's featuring movie stars and celebrities of the era, i.e. Judy Garland, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Mae West, Bela Lugosi, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, Salvadore Dali, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc, etc, etc.

Toby Peters, hard-luck private eye is one of my favorite of Kaminsky's characters. I love these stories.

Rex Stout. I binge-read all his Nero Wolfe books in one fell swoop every few years. Regular as clock work. I can't get enough of the irascible Wolfe and his steadfast minion, Archie Goodwin. When I read all the books at a time, I feel as if I've moved into the Manhattan brownstone with Wolfe and Archie and am privy to all their cases. These books never grow old for me. I will re-read them forever.

The pitfalls of binge reading: While binge-reading is mostly enjoyable - obviously, or I wouldn't do it - there are certain pitfalls.

1) You get to recognize the author's favorite phrases (and phrasing) and to note the constant use of certain words from book to book. It's the kind of thing that often slips by an author's radar. With a really talented writer though, this is mostly held to a minimum. But in binge reading you can't help but notice when it occurs. With most writers, it's probably unavoidable. Authors have favorite words and expressions. We all do. I don't think writers are any different from us in this regard. But for them it's an occupational hazard.

2) You will find mistakes as you read. Things you might not have noticed if you'd read the books in 'normal' time - say a book once every year or so. This only occasionally occurs in books that are not meant as series, since each story then features different characters and usually different settings. But in a long standing series, there are mistakes made and most of the time, you just have to overlook them, depending on how much you love the author's work. The sort of thing I'm talking about: character names, character idiosyncrasy, events in the character's life, dates of these events, that kind of thing. It is not very common, but it does happen and becomes especially noticeable if you're reading the books in a bunch.

3) You are apt to get too caught up in the world of a particular author's characters. Once you get to the end of the books, especially in a series, you will find it hard (at least, I do) to break free of that author's spell. I often find myself comparing the books I've just finished, to everything else I pick up to read - and not in a good way. It takes me a while to shake loose.

There's no accounting for binge reading, really. It's just something that happens every now and then and you go with it if you can.

So, are you guilty of binge-reading? Come on, 'fess up.

All illustrations by the one and only, the brilliant Quentin Blake, whom many of us know from his work with Roald Dahl's books (among others).


  1. I'm on one right now - Christianna Brand and H.C. Bailey. I discovered them both during Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge. I'm extremely frustrated that the interlibrary loan program at my library limits the number of books you can order at any one time. I need a fix and I need it now!

  2. Carol, you can try the used books at Better World Books. They ship for free no matter how small the order. They sometimes have a few of these older authors for not very much money. My library has very few vintage, but they do have some Mary Roberts Rinehart, most of which I brought home the other day. :)

  3. Thanks on the tip. AbeBooks also has lots of used books. Sometimes the book is $4 and no shipping charge.

    Haven't binged as much in recent years, but I had to read all of Stieg Larsson's books immediately as fast as possible. Then I did want to read all of Arnaldur Indridason's, and read a batch quickly. Did that with Donna Leon until I caught up, years ago with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller and John Grisham. Now a bit with Fred Vargas, Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo and Andrea Camilleri--oh, those depressed or manic police inspectors...

    I should do it with Carl Haiasen, who is so funny.

    And years ago, a bit with Rex Stout, Arthur Conan Doyle and a few more.

    I find chronology mistakes, which drive me nuts, or time mistakes. If someone went to bed at 4 a.m., left their home, drove, had lunch, drove, met a client at a certain time--no way they could have done all this in the time span. Lots of authors mess this up.
    Or the year something happened, how many years ago, sometimes does not jibe.

    Post-good book slump: If I read a book I like, part of a series or not, it stays with me, and I also compare the next book to it, and it never matches up. So I call it post-good-book slump: I try to read humor or light books to change the mood and move past the book I liked a lot.

  4. Kathy: Yeah, mini-binges. That's what I call what you've been up to. Ha! I prefer police inspectors like Maigret - not THAT depressed. Although Bill Slider started out depressed but got over it as the series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles progressed. I liked that about him. I also like Peter Diamond in the books by Peter Lovesey. He's a police inspector who is mildly depressed and often cynical but not egregiously so. Great books!

    Yes, I too have trouble with Post-Good Book Slump. ;)

  5. I think Post-Good-Book slump is a phenomenon known to serious readers. One gets attached to the characters.

    My 90-year-old uncle only likes a few authors and series. Lovesey's is one. As he tells us, he only likes puzzles, not sociopaths.

    Commissario Brunetti in Leon's books isn't depressed; he's introspective, reads classics (Greek, Roman). Camilleri's police detective is a bit depressed, but is manic, too. He is witty, but really can't work out his personal life with women especially.

    Sjowall/Wahloo's police inspector Martin Beck is also introspective and thinks about big issues; he's a bit depressed about his family relations, but he doesn't bring that into his brilliant detection.

    Indridason's Erlandur; now he's depressed and ruminates; he's got good reasons for it. But he is also a brilliant detective. He thinks about people and relationships a lot.

    I was at the library and saw a book by Kaminsky, thought I'd try it, but it was about a Russian character, didn't think that was what I was going to try, so I passed.

  6. I read Sjowall/Wahloo years ago. Recently re-red THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN. I like Martin Beck. I have one of the older Becks here I've been meaning to read: MURDER AT THE SAVOY.

    Stuart Kaminsky wrote prodigously. He had four series!! I like the Russian one, but I LOVE the Toby Peters series.

  7. I've been a binge-reader since Nancy Drew. Once I discovered her I HAD to keep looking and reading until I had read every one of the original 70-some. More recent binges: Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books, Amanda Cross' Kate Fansler series (academic mystery) and Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series.

  8. Bev: I've done it all my life too! It's a relatively harmless affliction. HA! That's why I love when an author has a large output of work. If I like the author I can throw myself carelessly into their body of work and emerge relatively unscated several weeks later. :)

  9. Well, it is a healthy addiction, in my book. Doesn't affect one's liver or health; it helps keep the brain active as one gets older. They can also make one laugh, which is healthy. Interesting books can also help keep down stress, as one always has a book, a distraction, entertainment.

    One can share books with friends, and discuss them--always fun. (A friend and I were discussing a book over the last week; one would have thought these were real people it was so serious.)

    This addiction can hurt our budgets, and for me, it can prevent me from doing errands, tasks, etc. if I have a good book. Housework--who cares? But sometimes I forsake all for a good book. Many avid readers may do that.

    For audiobooks, I hear, it can help one get out and walk while listening; a positive for health.

  10. I've book binged many! It started in HS when I had to read every ee cummings poetry book and then went on to read read his one novel. I read all of James Joyce one winter..even Finnegan's Wake which still baffles me.
    I love and devour Elizabeth Berg, Alice Taylor, Anita Shreve, Stephen King, James Patterson, the Kellerman's, Patricia Cornwell ...I guess the list could go on and on.

    I recently was given a Kindle as a gift and I found many classics for free! I downloaded all Jane Austin's books and may re-binge soon :)

    Did you do these illustrations, Yvette? They are charming!

  11. ....and of course as soon as I published my comment I saw who did the!

  12. Kathy: I love audio books, especially on long car journeys or while out walking. I plan on doing that this summer while I'm out and about.

    Yes, books are a great way to keep your blood pressure from zooming. They are a great diversion and certainly, addictive. :)

  13. Oh no, Cathy I wish I had done them. They are by Quentin Blake, a pretty famous illustrator who worked for years with Roald Dahl. I've given him full credit at the bottom of the blog and linked to his website so I hope I don't get in trouble. If anyone complains, I'll just remove them.

    I've stopped illustrating for now. Just don't seem to have the energy anymore. But maybe one of these days, I'll get back to it. I want to.

    Ah, reading binges. Aren't they fun? I love 'em!

  14. Any idea on where to start with Kaminsky's Toby Peters' series; it's 24 books long. The library has some.

  15. Yvette, if you love Nero Wolfe, and if you're anywhere in the New York City area, you might want to come to one of the bimonthly book discussions hosted by the Wolfe Pack. The next one, where the topic will be "If Death Ever Slept," is on Monday, May 16. Details at

  16. Kathy: With Kaminsky, you can try A BULLET FOR A STAR which is the first in the long-running series. It features Erroll Flynn. If you go to you can find the rest of the books listed in the order of their publication. Have fun reading them, they are wonderful!

  17. Les: I love Nero Wolfe, but it's difficult these days for me to go anywhere. It would be hard for me to make my way back home late in the evening. I did all my fun stuff way back when and now I just kind of stay near home. Thanks for thinking of me, though. I love the whole idea of The Wolfe Pack. Believe me, if I could, I would go. :)

  18. Pat: I just realized I called you 'Cathy' in my response a day or so ago. What is it with me???
    Sorry about that. Ha! (Hopefully you didn't notice.)

  19. Aging! Sometimes I call my neighbor's granddaughter by her dog's name and she does, too. Sometimes the dog, her granddaughter's name.

    Now I know what my mother has gone through when she has called me and my sister each other's names.

  20. Oh I mix up names all the time. But on my blog it is EMBARASSING!!! Ha!


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