The single-sitting read (Mistake #114)

There had been no plan to try to do it. Once I’d decided to, once I’d moved past the half-way mark, there was not much consideration for the fact that it would be my first time, were I to succeed. But I was closer to the end than the beginning. It seemed doable. And by then I was hooked. Totally imprisoned by what I was doing.

I did it.

I read a book in a single sitting.

I’ve never done it since.

I may never do it again.

The book was Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan.

I was hooked well before the half-way mark, of course. That first chapter. That extraordinary first chapter when you periodically forget to inhale.

It would be a cliché to call it unputdownable. I eventually did put it down, after all. But once I’d done so, after turning and reading the final page, I found myself filled with an almost electric energy: the sheer bristling satisfaction of having chosen the perfect book to read, and been thoroughly entertained and enthralled by it. There was a smugness, then, mixed in with an on-my-knees admiration for the author – I mean, the writing was just perfect. The appendix. The appendix!

Aside from childhood, that experience remains one of my most special with the written word. It’s not even my favourite novel (Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, if you’re curious), but the time I spent with that book might never be beaten. My eyes are stinging now, at the thought; my heart’s beating a little faster. It was thrilling.

I had not paused to pee. I don’t even think I drank. There was a time pressure dimension as well – my mother was preparing lunch for 1.30ish, and I’d kicked off after 9, perhaps 10. Three or four hours it took me. My eyes were very sore. My buttocks had morphed into fossil fuel. I was exhilarated.

Blimey: when was it? Was it twenty years ago? It still lingers.

The after-effects? Obviously I told everyone to read it. I can’t remember what my next book was – which probably tells its own tale. Less obviously, it made me really want to write. Not get down to writing, there and then. Not even, particularly, to write fiction. Just to work with words. Just to work with some of those amazing words I’d just read – just devoured, in fact, during that feverish marathon from which my bladder, my peepers and my bottom would take days to recover.

Do it. If you have never read a full-length book in one sitting, then correct that ‘mistake’ and do it. It’s a half-day you have to set aside. Pick a book whose spell you strongly suspect you’ll be under within paragraphs. One you’ve been saving. Not one that everyone’s been raving about that always turns out to be a partial disappointment because it was oversold to you; maybe one that one or two wise friends have quietly recommended in a special whisper, perhaps without giving up too many of its secrets.

It’s possible that you might not be able to ‘force’ it. It might just begin to happen to you – as it did to me – and if it does, keep going. Keep, keep going. And see where it leads you.

Which books have you read in a single sitting? What effect – if any – did they have on your writing?

Comments 2

  • 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington. (And have re-read it several times, but only the first reading was a single-sitting.) It’s about a man and a dog walking the South West Coast Path (Minehead to Poole Harbour). Made me want to walk the path too (which is now 630 miles long). Thought I’d do it as my mid-life crisis. (That deadline passed ages ago )

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