Ah, winter! Perfect for marathon reading sessions indoors, bundled against the blustery elements. Whether you have several whole weeks out of classes, or just a few extra days here and there to fit in some seasonal festivities and max out your relaxation, there’s nothing like a winter’s day off for disappearing into another world for the entirety of a story’s arc, however many volumes it takes.
There are lots of definitions floating around for “binge reading.” Some indicate that it’s about cramming to meet a reading deadline, or skimming as much and as fast as possible. Others look to the new(ish) tradition of binge-watching TV series in marathon installments to describe a similar commitment to reading in large doses, especially within the same series. It’s this last definition that really appeals to me: binge-reading as an intensive, immersive experience for hours and hours (or even days and days) on end. Series titles lend themselves admirably to this sort of extended reading escape. Binging on a series lets you completely submerge yourself in another world, spend inordinate amounts of time with your favorite (and most loathed!) characters, and learn how it all turns out in one fell swoop, all without interrupting the momentum of the plot, or muddying the motives of the characters in your mind with too long a pause between volumes.
So, to help you strategize your total reading immersion during this binge-reading (ahem, I mean holiday) season, here is a list of series worth disappearing into. To help prevent the dreaded, stomach-sinking realization that there are at least ten months between you and finding out what’s happened to your new favorite characters in the next book, every series on the list has every planned volume published. With one notable exception, because I just couldn’t help myself.
Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men)
The first book in this pulse-pounding series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults pick) launches readers into a world where the thoughts of all boys and men are audible to everyone around them; and all the girls and women have disappeared. The plot careens around with young Todd, our confused but generally well-meaning protagonist, and then pulls up at the edge of a serious cliffhanger of an ending; for your binge-reading enjoyment, make sure you have the next volume (The Ask and the Answer) lined up to keep going without pause! For readers who like their binge in auditory formats, The Knife of Never Letting Go was also a 2011 Odyssey Honor book.
Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue)
If you love two powerful characters sparring – with both dialogue and physical blows – then there are scenes in the first book of Cashore’s wonderful fantasy series (Graceling, a 2009 Morris Honor book, a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults book, and a 2009 Teens’ Top Ten pick) that you will want to read again and again. Or perhaps your favorite fantasy convention is a solid quest through difficult terrain? The Graceling Realm has you covered there too. Palace intrigue? Check. Complex characters grappling with issues of identity, morality, and fraught relationships? Yep. The second book in the series, Fire, was a 2010 Best Books for Young Adults book, and a 2010 Teens’ Top Ten pick as well. If you hit the end of the series shaking your first because Cashore doesn’t have any more books out for you to read right now, then make sure you’ve read…
The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant)
Pierce was recognized for the “significant and lasting contribution” this series (and the also-excellent Protector of the Small quartet) has made to YA literature with the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award; these books are essential YA fantasy reading. Originally published in the 1980s, Alanna’s determination to train for combat while keeping her gender secret rings as true today as it did 20 years ago. And she’s stubborn as anything, which makes for entertaining (and sometimes frustrating!) reading.
Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta (Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn)
Attention, readers who love some serious angst in the relationships between characters, crazy-high stakes for everyone with pretty much every turn of the plot, and decades of tension, strife, and prophecy contributing to all interactions; Marchetta’s high-drama fantasy is for you! A web of conflicting motives, buried secrets, and deep wounds drives a sprawling cast of characters from a war-torn land through each volume, with generous doses of love, loss, betrayal, desire, and revenge to keep the pages turning. The first in the series, Finnikin of the Rock, was a 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and the audiobook production was also a 2011 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults pick.
Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath)
Revisionist WWI history with a firmly steampunk approach, peppered with intricate, captivating illustrations to delight your imagination? Yes, please! An awesome pick for binge-reading for folks who love to get lost in the charm of incredible world-building, the Leviathan series offers page after page of delightful new creatures and contraptions, all anchored by an adventure-driven plot. Another series with an audio edge; all three audiobooks are narrated by the stellar Alan Cumming (accents! score!), and the first volume of the series, Leviathan, was honored as a 2011 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults pick, a 2011 Top Ten Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults pick, and a 2010 Best Books for Young Adults book.
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and an as-yet unnamed fourth volume still to be released)
This is where I break my own rule of only pointing you towards series you could actually read all of at your next binge-reading session. The fourth and final volume of this contemporary fantasy series, set in the (mostly) recognizable southern US, is not yet published, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave The Raven Cycle out, even though everyone will have to wait (and wait. and wait!) with me for closure. If you haven’t read any of them yet, three volumes is definitely enough to a) get you completely hooked, and b) disappear for a satisfying chunk of time into rural Henrietta, where Blue Sargent (reluctantly) befriends Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah from the local prep school. Blue comes from a family of psychics, and she already carries a burden of difficult – secret- knowledge concerning one of the boys. This is character-driven storytelling with elements of fantasy woven seamlessly into the whole, and it holds up to repeat visits (a stellar trait in a binge-read if ever there was one!). The Raven Boys was a 2013 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults book and a 2013 Teens’ Top Ten pick.
Of course this list is only the tip of the serial iceberg, but I hope you enjoy contemplating a binge-reading session as the temperatures drop and the holidays approach; please share your favorite series to binge-read in the comments!
-Carly Pansulla, currently reading The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston