The Unputdownables, Or, One-Sitting Reads

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 27, 2014

The great thing about being a bookseller: so many books to read! The terrible thing about being a bookseller: SO many books to read. They’re a mixed blessing, these stacks of advance reading copies and digital shelves filled with downloaded goodies from NetGalley and Edelweiss (booksellers’ treasure chests). With the sheer number of titles published every year, even the really good ones can start to blend together. Which makes the one-sitting reads — those books you cannot stop reading, the ones you make little bargains with yourself about trading task time for reading time, the ones you end up staying awake until 3 a.m. for — all the more memorable.

Right now I’m in the middle of Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, a cleverly structured novel that alternates between the story of a teenager who writes (and gets a fabulous publishing deal for) a paranormal thriller, and chapters of that thriller itself. Westerfeld always has such a deft hand at spinning stories; it’s a pleasure to slip into his worlds. And this one is irresistible to anyone connected to the world of YA literature; it’s filled with references and tidbits from the wilds of publishing, and celebrates the fierce joy of the very act of writing. I haven’t finished the book yet; I’m halfway through and, truth be told, impatient to get back to it. It will be a (nearly) single-sitting read.
In thinking about what makes a book unputdownable, I decided that high stakes were usually part of the equation, some sense of suspense even if not a dangerous kind. (I’m thinking here of quieter books that nevertheless keep readers enthralled, like Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me,  which I inhaled in one bite.) Reader curiosity is probably the biggest motivator for turning pages quickly, yes? That’s followed closely by reader delight. Bruce Coville, when a guest speaker at Vermont College’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, was chatting with students in a Q&A session during the height of Harry Potter fervor, and someone asked him why he thought those books were so astronomically successful. He broke into a laugh and said that, among other things, J.K. Rowling “has a seriously high cool-things-per-page ratio.” Yep. A simple and strikingly insightful observation on Mr. Coville’s part.
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer was another book I refused to put down before finishing, as was The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, and M.T. Anderson’s Feed. Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers would have been a one-sitting read, but was a little too long for one night’s read, so I finished it in two. Same with Cate Tiernan’s Immortal Beloved, and Adam Rapp’s 33 Snowfish. These books couldn’t be more different from one another, but they all held me spellbound.
There are others, of course. What are yours?
I’d love to compile a list of people’s one-sitting reads, especially recent books, so please add your unputdownables to the comments list and I’ll post them in a future ShelfTalker post.
And now, Dear Readers, you know where I’m headed: back to Afterworlds.
Happy reading!

8 thoughts on “The Unputdownables, Or, One-Sitting Reads

  1. Deirdre Greene

    THE CONDUCTOR OF ILLUSIONS (Roaring Forties Press, 2014) is a great one-sitting read–a psychological thriller about a world-class conductor who goes mad. Takes place in glamorous European cities and at high-stakes gambling venues–it keeps the reader riveted.

  2. Alison

    My term for those books is “stop-skippers” – the books that keep you so engrossed that you miss your subway stop!

  3. Charlotte

    I just read Merrie Haskell’s Castle Behind Thorns in a single sitting so very single that I don’t think I changed position at all while reading, judging how stiff I was when I got up an hour and a half later!

  4. Eleanor (Ellie) Miller

    Most recently? Stephen King’s “Joyland” and Dave Eggers “The Circle”. As a corollary to one-sitter reads, something I’m finding increasingly relevant as it becomes harder for me to get out-and-about and I need to rely more and more on my own library is what I think of as series reads: “…Begin at the beginning, go on until you’re though and then stop.” I’ll pull out ‘A’ book by a favorite author for a reread and suddenly find myself involved in a complete reread of the entire series. Most recently? Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn detections. I’m also realizing that enjoying a NEW book in an established series very frequently will send me back to its beginning for this kind of reread afterwards.

  5. David LaRochelle

    Pete Hautman’s time travel YA novel MR. WAS was a book that I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning to finish. Suspenseful and gripping. He’s gone on to write other powerful novels since this one, but he started out with a bang with his first YA novel.

  6. Lindy Jones

    The Thickety! Picked it up from a pile of books to look at, and found myself 90 pages later still standing and utterly enthralled!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *