The Unputdownables, Or, One-Sitting Reads

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 27th, 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!