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6 Literary Book Series Guaranteed to Keep You Reading

Because there’s only one thing better than one great reading experience: several great reading experiences.

By Laura Brading

If I’m being honest, when I hear the phrase ‘book series’ I instantly envision fantasy titles featuring embossed dragons and swords on the cover. Either that, or racy-looking romances with women draped in cloth with a Bon-Jovi-type embracing her.

In other words when I think “book series” I don’t immediately think “literary fiction”. But the category, though not an entirely abundant one, does exist and it sure does deliver.

One of my most cherished reading experiences was reaching the end of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Light Years, a multi-generational saga about a British family, only to discover that it was the first in an exquisite quintet. There were still almost 2500 pages left to devour (and not a single dragon to be found on any of them).

Because what’s better than one great reading experience than several great reading experiences? Clear your calendars, dear readers, here are six literary book series that will offer you just that.

Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

If Hilary Mantel describes a series as “the product of a lifetime’s experience, from a writer who knew her aim and had the stamina and technical skill to achieve it”, we take note. These books, first published in the ‘90s, follow the secrets and passions of a somewhat aristocratic British family between the 1930s and 1950s. It’s the incisive detail of the characters’ emotional lives and the effortless social history lesson you get while reading them that make these five books so alluring.

Amgash Series by Elizabeth Strout

You may have read one or some of the books in this series without necessarily knowing they form part of a series. As is her signature style, Elizabeth Strout uses a central character as an anchor point and creates a world around them over multiple books. In this instance it’s Lucy Barton, a writer whose honesty and vulnerability is a revelation. Here is a character who knows what I feel, you think. You can read these books in any order, but I do think there is something gratifying in following Strout’s order (My Name is Lucy Barton 2016, Anything Is Possible 2017, Oh William! 2021, Lucy by the Sea 2022).

A Key to All Mythologies Trilogy by Jonathan Franzen

A bit cheeky of me to include this one given that the remaining two books in the trilogy haven’t yet been published, but you will want to be up to speed when they do. Beginning with Crossroads, a 600-page domestic drama about a dysfunctional family living in 1970’s suburban Chicago, this trilogy will “span three generations and trace the inner life of our culture through the present day”. Of course, in Franzen’s hands, you can trust that it will be hilarious, expansive and full of life.

The Gilead Trilogy by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson’s name is almost synonymous with her 1980 classic Housekeeping, but have you read her Gilead series? An intergenerational story about faith, race and love, radiating out from the interwoven histories of two families in a small Iowa town, this four-book series boasts a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards. (It also has nothing to do with that Gilead.)

The Last Hundred Years Trilogy by Jane Smiley

I promise that not all of my suggestions will be panoramic family sagas set in the Midwest, but indulge me once more. The Last Hundred Years trilogy follows a farming family over, well, one hundred years. Beginning in 1920, the novels (written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley) detail the triumphs and tragedies of the Langdon family and the ways in which history affects ordinary people. This may not scream sexy and engrossing, but just trust me on this one. The very definition of epic, the trilogy invites you to experience the changing landscape of America in intimate, dazzling detail.

Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

With a TV adaption, countless bestseller badges and an actual phenomenon called Ferrante Fever, the Neapolitan Novels probably don’t require much of an intro. Originally conceived as one book, Ferrante realised that her story about an intense lifelong friendship between two females from Naples was too sweeping for a single volume. Four novels that span six decades later and you have yourself the Neapolitan Quartet – a masterful interrogation of female friendship, fate, education, violence, adventure, sexual passion, accomplishment and family. If you’ve somehow missed the buzz around these books, take this as your sign to get started.

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BY Laura Brading

Laura is part of the PRIMER team. She also runs Well Read, a book subscription service.

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