20 May 2020

Irish Stew and Alphabet Soup

Roddy Doyle. Photo by Christoph Rieger
I have mentioned before that Roddy Doyle is my favorite living Irish writer.  He doesn't write crime fiction - although he has come close.  He does write contemporary fiction, historical stuff, children's lit, and an amazing biography of his parents.

For several years he has also been recording conversations about current affairs between two mates in a pub.  When we were in Dublin last summer we saw the play version at the Abbey Theatre.  Now, thinks to Irish Radio RTE you can hear those same actors performing the Two Pints as they cope with the lockdown.  (And they seem to have anticipated a suggestion made by our own president.)

Recently on Facebook, Eamon Doyle (I don't know if they are related) had a complaint about the three published books of these conversations: The stupid alphabet dictates that I shelve Roddy Doyle's TWO PINTS, TWO MORE PINTS, and TWO FOR THE ROAD in reverse chronological order. It drives me nuts. If only I had some choice in the matter.

As a recovering librarian, Eamon, I feel your pain.  But that got me thinking about putting books in proper order.

Take Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy.  It was once voted the greatest series in science fiction history.  The books belong in the same order whether you put the titles alphabetically or chronologically, and yet people often file (or even read!) them in the wrong order.  Can you see why?

Decades later Asimov wrote more Foundation novels which ruined the alphabeticalitude, so we shall ignore them.

What about our own field?  Are there examples of mystery series being published in alphabetical order?

Yes, of course you are right.  Sue Grafton has that covered.

Poster by CountofManifesto

But don't forget the very first series of mystery short stories:

And the series below is listed in chronological order.  (Keep in mind that in libraries initial articles are ignored.  A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four both file under S.)

The Big Sleep
Farewell My Lovely
The High Window
The Lady in the Lake
The Little Sister
The Long Goodbye

Raymond Chandler started another Marlowe novel which was finished by Robert B.Parker and published as The Poodle Springs Mystery. So even that one kept the pattern up.

Can you think of other examples of mysteries  where the alphabet and chronology match up?



  1. Those two home philosophers in TWO PINTS radio would fit right into my neighborhood.

  2. When Bantam reprinted the Nero Wolfe mysteries in the 1980s/1990s, the list of books in the front matter was in chronical order. (I had occasion, last night, to look at that, and today I discover that it's at least sort of useful information for others.) But in bookstores, the last time I looked, they were shelved alphabetically by title--which is, after all, easier for the people stocking the shelves.

  3. To answer your question, no I can't think of any other writers whose series go in alphabetical order. I remember having trouble keeping track of Perry Mason, JD Robb, and Dortmunder books read, but now it's easy enough to find a list of most author's books in order of appearance online. For my favorite authors, I keep charts and mark those I've read. I also now list them on Goodreads. But that doesn't help with older titles. Interesting post!

  4. Speaking of sci-fi, Omni Magazine might have published a puzzle along the lines of a bookworm chewing from page 1 of a two-volume set through to the last page of volume 2, each volume containing 1-inch of pages and ⅛-inch covers. How far did the bookworm travel?

  5. P.S: I didn't have to think about the Asimov Foundation order. As a kid, I bought the Foundation Trilogy in a single, thick volume for something like 99¢.

  6. R.T., if you go to Roddy Doyle's Facebook page you can find videos of the actors performing new Two Points sketches, mostly complaining about the pubs being closed. Very funny.

  7. And thanks to all the commenters!

  8. Cool. I love the FOUNDATION Trilogy.

  9. I can think of one series of mystery short stories where the first lines fit, in a different sort of order: the first letters in the first words of the stories in Gelett Burgess' "Master of Mysteries" spell out: THE AUTHOR IS GELETT BURGESS.

  10. Cool, Jeff. Thanks. Of course, Burgess is remembered today, if at all, for writing "The Purple Cow." He also invented the word "blurb" to describe those dollops of praise on bookcovers.


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