Before I really got into goodreads/booklikes/blogging and book conversation on the internet, I was a much more loosey-goosey reader. I'd pick up a book by an unknown author that looked good, shrug, and read it.
What this meant was that I often picked up a book that was in the middle of the series, or, if it was an author who didn't write series, I would pick up the book that was the most popular by that author. There is an argument for discovering books in this fashion, without focusing on where the book is in the author's career or in an interesting series. Of course, authors tended to write single arc books back then, in the dark ages, so even picking up a book in the middle of a series usually wasn't a huge problem. It was easy to figure out what was going on - unlike the way that current series are mostly published, with dangling threads and unresolved arcs continuing from book to book.
However, with so much information about books available at my fingertips - order of publication, series lists, etc - and most books being generally obtainable to readers (at least in the U.S.) for a reasonable price, I've become much more obstinate about reading things in order, both in terms of series, which makes sense, and in terms of publication date with respect to an individual author, which makes less sense. Unfortunately, what that means is that I find myself, by starting at the beginning, sometimes not reading the best work first. Which means that I end up dropping the author/series because there are a number of uninteresting books standing between me and the books that really appeal to me.
Am I the only one who does this? What do you all think? Is it better to start at the beginning or is it better to jump in once the author has hit his/her stride? Does it make more sense to start with the author's best work or a lesser known book and then work your way up to the best work? What if you can't get your hands on the first few books in a series - do you cross that series off your mental list for all time? If the author starts a spin-off series, do you feel like you need to read the original series before you can read the spin-off, even if the original doesn't really appeal to you?
Tell me what you think!