An important topic on other arts-related Stack Exchange sites, giving them some of their most enduring and useful questions, is suggested order. An example question of this kind would ask for the most sensible order in which to read a set of connected works - for instance, the Narnia novels or the Sherlock Holmes stories, for both of which in-universe chronological order differs from out-of-universe publication order. A good answer would provide not only a suggested order but also clear objective reasoning for why that particular order is preferable.

Examples currently existing on-site:

Should questions like these be on-topic for Literature SE?


2 Answers 2


TL;DR: Yes. Very much so.

Why are they good?

Reading-order questions are possibly the most practically useful questions this site will ever see. Questions about literary analysis, or plot points in specific works of literature, can be very interesting, and may well be the types of question that attract the experts every SE site wants to have; but learning the best order in which to read a particular series of books can be vital information for someone who's just getting into that series. By providing good answers to reading-order questions, Literature SE can actually make a difference to people's lives.

My claim that these are likely to be the most useful is supported by the quantitative fact that on what Literature is likely to consider a sister site, Science Fiction & Fantasy (currently the only SE site which takes questions about any fiction books), suggested order questions are nearly always the most viewed questions in each tag:

And so on, and so forth. I could post a dozen of these. Admittedly all of the above links refer to films or TV shows rather than book series, but unfortunately most of the most popular questions on SFF are about screen works. For one final example, book-related and with a dose of irony:

Why aren't they bad?

Let me also take some time to address what I suspect will be people's main argument against allowing these questions: subjectivity. This is always going to be seen as a potential issue with suggested order questions. In fact, one of the most natural titles for such questions, "What's the best order to read such-and-such a series?", contains the buzzword "best" which will raise an automatic notification that your question may be closed for being too subjective.

However, subjective questions aren't always bad! In an old blog post entitled "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective", which is still cited in every site's help centre to this day, SE employee Robert Cartaino discussed what can make subjective questions a great fit for the SE model. To summarise a lot of words, they should attract answers which are detailed, impartial, actually useful, and most importantly of all well explained and supported.

So what does this mean for reading-order questions? Well, clearly an answer should be more than just "read the books in this order" or "here's the order I read them in" - such minimalist answers should be downvoted. A really good answer should not only give a suggested reading order but also some objective supporting evidence for why that particular order is recommended. Explain that reading book A will give you major spoilers for the ending of book B, or that book C only makes sense when you already know the events of book A, or anything else that makes a good argument for one order rather than another. If the author of the series is on record as recommending a particular order, that can also be good supporting information.

By voting responsibly on answers to reading-order questions, we can discourage low-quality ones from being posted and encourage good ones to be recognised. In time, Literature SE can become the go-to place for anyone starting on a new book series with a non-obvious order who wants to know where to begin!

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    You do realize that said blog post also says that a discussion about the watching order of Star Wars is really bad? It's the prime example of subjective and I think it does not rank well on the six follow up questions. Especially on the experience over opinions it ranks abysmally.
    – Helmar
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 18:37
  • @Helmar Heh, that's quite amusing :-) But see the last two paragraphs of my answer: sure, reading-order questions CAN attract bad answers as well as good ones, but by voting responsibly we can ensure that the well-justified ones rise to the top and the minimalist ones die out.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 18:59
  • What do you mean by "objective supporting evidence"? There isn't always a "perfect" reading order that everybody should use. Some people may prefer simply reading them by the order they were published, other people may have other preferences, that is far from the meaning of the word "objective", so I suggest you remove that phrase. However, your answer in general is quite good. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:07
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    @TheBitByte No, I mean "objective". Answers should not be based simply on personal preference, but on objective evidence. For example, as said, perhaps reading book A will give you major spoilers for the ending of book B, or certain allusions in book C only make sense when you already know the events of book A, or the author is on record as recommending a particular order. None of these are subjective criteria.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:10
  • @Rand al'Thor Can you clarify what level of objectivity you are referring to here? In the strictest sense, what you're suggesting is not really objective. In a less strict sense however, it may be objective enough for the purposes of this site, but even that is different from simply calling it "objective", since the latter does not say what the limits of said objectivity are, and I suggest you do add a note about that to your answer. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:13
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    @TheBitByte It's quite hard to define levels of objectivity in any, well, objective sense. I suggest you read Good Subjective, Bad Subjective - for the reasons outlined above, I believe reading-order questions are a good case of Good Subjective, provided we're conscientious about voting on answers to them.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:25
  • @Randal'Thor If you view them as "good subjective". well, okay, that is your opinion, but what I'm saying is, "good subjective" and "objective" may be potentially significantly different things. Therefore, I was suggesting that you clarify your answer as to which of these you are referring to. I might be nitpicking, but your answer put the word "objective" in bold letters so it is only fair to ask whether the word is actually used in its proper sense or not. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:38
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    @TheBitByte My understanding of "good subjective" as opposed to "bad subjective" is that it essentially means "having objective support". Like it says in the help centre, they should "inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”" and "have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone" and "insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references". Impartiality and especially facts and references sound more objective than subjective.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:43
  • @Randal'Thor "more objective than subjective" is a potentially vague term. As I stated before, your answer put the word "objective" in bold letters so it is only fair to ask whether the word is actually used in its proper sense or not. If that isn't the case, then I suggest to clarify your answer as to what you truly meant. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:45

Yes, but only if done properly.

There might be a thin line between what is personal preference and what is not only personal preference.

For example, I could say for some hypothetical book series, that you read it in the order it was published in. The fact that the order is the way it is does not mean that the order is good or bad, it simply describes what the order is.

I, perhaps, may have been able to equally choose a chronological order. Why is a chronological order better or worse than an order by date of publication, if at all?

Is it because, as an example, that's what our hypothetical author himself or herself recommends? Is it because reading by the order of publication means the story gets all jumbled up and some events are read in the wrong order? Or is it because you simply prefer that order, and it is just how you're used to reading those books?

It is thus important to be as objective as we can when describing reading orders.

Is the order the author prefers objective simply because it is the author who has preferred it? Nope. However, if the author has good reasons for that order, then that order might be objective.

What makes a reason "good"? And is that an objective measure? As you can see, quite a few questions must be answered in our minds before we begin writing about the reading order we wish to write about.

It is thus also important to define what level of objectivity we are talking about here. If we are to consider the strictest sense of the word, then potentially lots of possible reading order suggestions are thrown out, because, well, they're not objective. But if we are to consider a less strict sense, then how much "less strict" are we considering here?

My personal suggestion is that answers to questions must:

  • Be strictly objective.

  • Use nothing out-of-canon to give arguments supporting that reading order.

  • Describe that reading order as better than others if and only if that description is strictly objective.

These three requirements are not always easy to achieve, and for some types of books, they could potentially be extremely difficult to fulfill successfully, but I think they may help to avoid answers that are based on mostly personal preferences and perhaps other non-objective answers as well.

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