• Recommended Reads: One-Sitting Books

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 86 comments
    May
    9

    Discussion questions: What are some of your favorite one-sitting books? What do you find appealing about one-sitting books? Have you ever written one? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

     

    Lately we’ve been talking a lot about our struggles with writing (“Can Creativity Be Forced?“; “Creativity During COVID-19“) and reading (“Pandemic Reading: What Are You Reaching For?“) — really, attention span — since stay-at-home began.

    Last week, in an effort to foster some writing inspiration, we ran a micro fiction contest — “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” The contest may be closed by the time you read this, but hey, no harm in using the prompt anyway, if you need it.

    This week I want to offer up something for those of you — OK, those of us — who might be struggling to focus on a book. In the past few weeks I’ve picked up, read a few pages of, and then discarded some excellent literature: Catch-22; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Death Comes for the Archbishop, and more. I just can’t seem to launch into a long book.

    Instead I’ve been rereading Vonnegut. Just, a lot of Vonnegut. Pretty much this entire book. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but part of the reason it works for me is that I’ve already read these books, again and again. It requires less of me.

    I wanted something new, and just in time, in the mail came a new novel called Whiteout Conditions by Tariq Shah, a quick 115-pager that looks good and, perhaps even more importantly right now, is something I can knock out in one sitting.

    So I thought this week we could all join forces to make a list of our favorite one-sitting reads, partly just for fun, and partly to offer some recommendations to any of us struggling with attention spans right now.

    I’ll offer up one of my favorite to get things rolling: Stewart O’Nan’s novella Last Night at the Lobster. In normal times I might suggest that it pushes the limits of “one-sitting,” but these days, maybe not so much.

    How about you? What are some of your favorite one-sitting books? What attracts you to one-sitting books?

    Have you ever written a one-sitting book? Tell us about it, and feel free to provide a link.

     

    david blogWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Raymundo

    Hi Dave. The appeal, for me, of a short book (basically, a novella) is it being a dramatic whole that can be taken in at one time. Less is lost, it seems. I’ve considered writing novellas–maybe a series of related ones. Actually, my book of “short stories” (The Wider World) is a book of novellas, each about 30 to 40 pages. As for shorter classics, I think about “The War of the World” (H.G. Wells) these days. As a mass market paperback, it’s only 194 pages. It is a powerful metaphor for death and horror sweeping through a society with… Read more »

    stephen Glick

    Raymundo,I love how you mention a classic. I have two choices. I just finished in almost one sitting James Patterson The Honey moon.I am sorry I began to carry on.

    Raymundo

    The Honeymoon by Patterson is like 400 pages. If you read that in a sitting, you are beyond me. Also, your entry is beyond my understanding, but I can go with that. Take care, dude.

    Raymundo

    I’ve thought about it, but never tried to learn it. I just try to set a fast reading pace when I feel I need to.

    Raymundo

    That’s true. I’ve never read any of his work.

    Raymundo

    LOL. I think of Patterson as a sort of corporate machine. My theory is that the corporate structure can’t handle art. That’s why the last Star Wars movies were so bad.

    Raymundo

    Maybe you tend to psych up for one or the other, just not both. Very little actual short or flash fiction appeals to me.

    Raymundo

    I’ll check it out. I have read another set of essays by Orwell called, “Why I Write.” Very quotable.

    Raymundo

    Both are well-deserved classics. Especially 1984. Very applicable to what’s happening.

    Nick Jarvis

    Sometimes I use Orwell’s short essay “Shooting an Elephant” as a teaching tool for critical reading. I’ve had good reactions from students recently.

    stephen Glick

    Hello world. I belong to the Wisconsin writers association. There is a writing contest closing June fifth. It is called the Jade Ring!Also I have just finished “James Patterson’s The Honeymoon. In a six hour sit down. I am now reading a fortyth anniversary of Stephen Kings Carrie. I truly expected this book to be a monolith in size but it is maybe 200 pages. Good reading to all. David keep mulling over my idea please!

    stephen Glick

    As I was told he could sell his shopping list and it would be on the best sellers list. I have not read the original Carrie. This version is written as a case study. Known as the White project.

    Nick Jarvis

    Hey David. I just read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for the first time for the kids I teach. It’s a quick read in maybe two sittings, more of a series of vignettes sprinkled within a very simple plot of unique characters. Steinbeck loves life and it’s something we could all use right now. Very positive, life-affirming story during tough times. It reminded me a little of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio but with less eccentric personalities.

    Jennifer Pommer

    Cannery Row is great. I also recommend The Pearl and Of Mice and Men – both short, but interesting reads.

    Nick Jarvis

    Yes, both of those are very different from Cannery Row, though. I think Steinbeck meant Of Mice of Men to be a stage play, originally, or at least be adapted for the stage well enough, as it certainly reads like a play. The Pearl feels a bit like a moral tale concerning greed and such. While Cannery Row has a little of that, it’s more of a light-hearted series of smaller tales about enjoying life or of people helping each other out. Nature plays a greater role in it than in the other two, and some of the stories are… Read more »

    Jennifer Pommer

    If you ever get the chance, go to Monterey, CA. I read Cannery Row when I was there, and the characters really came to life.

    Nick Jarvis

    Not a bad idea. I will. Students of mine pained over reading the nature scenes with the sea life when the tide rolls out, but I loved it. I’ll see if I can find the same.

    Nick Jarvis

    Yes, I did like it, but I’ve been told more than a few times that my tastes are “quaint.” I love John Cheever, too, but I was told by a writing mentor in college that I needed to read more contemporary stuff, which I was. But I’ll take the quaint but solid stories of Cheever over Mark Leyner’s “Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog” or David Foster Wallace any day. As for Winesburg, Ohio. I know what you mean, as I’ve read it one and a half times. I loved it the first time — the introductory essay on the… Read more »

    Doug MacCullagh

    I have to admit I am not sure what the definition of “novella” is, but I think the story I just finished (108 letter size pages, single spaced with a blank line between paragraphs) qualifies as a short book. I know writing it was a sanity saver.

    Doug MacCullagh

    It just came out that way. The story had been developing in my head for some time, and finally got to the point I had to write it down. It took the pages necessary to tell the story to the best of my ability. After the first draft and read through, it became obvious that some of the material had to be cut out, some stuff added, and even more needed revision. This is just how it came out.

    Mary McAvoy

    Hi Dave, The first novella I remember reading in one sitting was Flowers For Algernon. I was about 14 at the time and it blew my mind. The intensity and arc of the story burrowed into my heart and psyche. A book had never had such an impact on me. Other favorite novellas from my teen years – The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck One of my favorite books is the international bestseller Embers by Sandor Marai. It’s just over 200 pages. Both times I’ve read it, I found it to be… Read more »

    doris

    yes Mary…..Old Man and the Sea !

    Elissa Malcohn

    The first one-sitting book I read this year was Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference. As a collection of her addresses, it contains a fair amount of internal repetition. But her message is sound (and urgent) and I like the way she tailors her points to her different audiences. Sergei Dovlatov’s The Suitcase is a short book of marvelous interconnected essays. I think I read Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (which coined the term “robot”) in one sitting. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is a great single-sitting book that simultaneously invites one to spend time with and… Read more »

    Susan

    Just today I was looking on my bookshelf to see if I have any short books I can remember reading, and I found Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, and I can’t even remember if I read it or not (altho’ I seem to be on about a thing today of royal people living in trees.) I studied Italian in college, and Calvino was a favorite of my professore, so we read some of his short stories. I will see if I can get a hold of Invisible Cities, because I was wanting to re-read some of those Italian… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I had written this in my journal: The Calvino has brought me to tears — not so much because of the subject matter, though it is very evocative and could easily generate an emotional response. My tears came from the sheer craft of it. The wordsmithing, economy of phrase. I thought of the “sickness” that afflicts some people who visit Florence and are overwhelmed by its beauty (Stendhal syndrome). Translate that into literary form and you have Invisible Cities.

    Susan

    I think it will be good for my aging brain, especially during quarantine, to read Invisible Cities in Italian, get those r’s rolling again. There used to be a bookstore here that sold books in many different languages, and I miss it. What is Stendhal Syndrome?

    Elissa Malcohn

    Info on Stendhal Syndrome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome I was lucky enough to visit Florence in 1987 and learned about it then. I didn’t experience it myself, but the beauty of Florence had made that trip unforgettable. Probably the closest I came to being overcome by awe was after I had climbed to the top of the Duomo (with many others in a very tight enclosed space as we inched up the dome). Suddenly we were out in the open, above a sea of terra cotta roofs at the top of the hour (5 PM if I remember correctly), and it seemed all… Read more »

    Susan

    Pleistocene, oh ya, those were the good old days. I’ll go to wiki now and check out Stendahl

    Susan

    From the wiki/Stendhal, “Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty … I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul.” That sounds something like how the Irish describe being in a “thin place”, certain places are spiritually charged, and they say the veil between Heaven and Earth is thinner there and you feel intense awe, but I’m not sure if you also get the physical symptoms. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it either, maybe came close once, but it was more an experience that was beautiful rather than a place. When… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Haven’t been to Ireland (yet!). Kevin Barry sounds new to me; I’ve bookmarked Beatlebone and Night Boat to Tangier as next in line to borrow. There are currently two books ahead of them — I’ve started reading the final USA volume, Dos Passos’s The Big Money, and I’m on waitlist for Cixin Liu’s Supernova Era. Thanks for the recommendation!

    SusanH

    I just typed a reply and then hit a wrong button and it disappeared, so I hope it doesn’t show up twice.. Wasn’t sure if you addressed this to me or Elissa, but could be either or both. Anyhow, no, I have not been to Ireland (yet!) either, except for travels of the mind, and I have some deep emotional/psychological connections there. You did suggest Kevin Barry to me, and he is definitely on the list and may move up now that you mention the thin places.

    Jennifer Pommer

    Hello Dave, I hope you are staying safe. I am one of those who, hopefully at the moment, can’t read what I normally read. I am reading on a writing ‘how-to’ and going chapter by chapter. Right now, I am working on it only a few days a week. I also started reading short stories, but, even these, if it doesn’t grab my interest, I put it down for another time. I refuse to give up on reading though, and have considered listening to a book on video via a library app. Maybe it’s time for the picture books ;)… Read more »

    doris

    Jennifer, I recommend “Uncommon Type” written by Tom Hanks for short stories. You can hear “hear” his voice when you read through the stories which makes them even more interesting.

    Jennifer Pommer

    Thanks David – I like Tom Hanks so I will give it a go.

    Bonnie West

    surprisingly good. I was suspect but like the stories. Not sure I finished them all but did like what I read. And now after his Covid behavior I like him even better.

    Jennifer Pommer

    Well, I have been trying to read “Classical Whodunnits – Murder and Mystery from Ancient Greece and Rome” edited by Mike Ashley (I like mysteries and history). One or two have grabbed my attention, but my reading time has really dropped because my attention has been on finding out how to meander through this viral mess to stay safe, as everyone has been doing AND focusing more on writing than reading when I can. I’m happy to say that, although not as much as I had wanted, I am writing more words. I hope your reading and writing is improving!… Read more »

    Jennifer Pommer

    I’ve thought again about what I’m reading now and, interestingly, I’m actually watching more TV when I might normally have been reading. I think its because I don’t see/watch people as I did on a daily basis before the stay-at-home policy. Though I do have 1-2 ZOOM meetings, which are also videos, I think I must need to see the interactions of people (??).

    Jennifer Pommer

    You are now in Stage 3 of stay-at-home dilemma ;). I’m still in Stage 2.5. Now I have been reading, though not as much as usual, but part of that might have been taken over by writing (yea), which I’m starting to do- right now, outlining. I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Susan

    Just read Sweeney Astray, translated by Seamus Heaney–a translation of the original ancient story of The Frenzy of Sweeney, about a king who goes mad in battle then lives as a bird in the trees and recites poetry and can fly. He is considered a shaman by some. I had to read it because At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien is based on it, and I wanted to understand the source so I can understand O’Brien. Anyhow, to get through the original story is a quick read, but to understand all of its references could take, like, a lifetime… Read more »

    Susan

    That does sound like a fun class. Never read Liddy, but I will look for his poems. I took a UWM workshop with poet Susan Feuer. There were a lot of good poets in that class, and I was intimidated, but I learned a lot. Speaking of Milwaukee poets, I see Antler in the park a lot when I am dog-walking. I always wonder why he called himself Antler, but I haven’t asked him yet.

    SusanH

    Hmm… I’ll have to think about that a bit and see if I can remember the year. I have a poem I wrote for her, and I know I still have the handouts she gave us and they might have dates on them. It was a long time ago. Susan Firer…is that how she spells her name or that is how it is pronounced? For some reason I had a maybe false memory that she went by name Susan Fury…maybe I was misremembering Firer. I’ll look for a copy of the Hazard poem.

    SusanH

    I so far haven’t found that poem online, but you might enjoy this: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/poetry/jim-hazard-missing-year/, a tribute to Jim Hazard written as a poem (a bit long, but I liked the beginning of it even though I didn’t know the guy, now I wish I had!)

    SusanH

    Still searching for that poem, and instead I found something about Susan Firer. Her name is pronounced like the word “fear”. Now, why did I remember that her name is actually Feuer and is pronounced Fury?? Then I looked up feuer and it means fire in German. This is how my brain (no longer) works these days.

    SusanH

    “I mention this why?” you ask. Could it be that all of those writers dying within a few years of your leaving their tutelage, implies that it was YOU that they were all living for? The only student who ever learned anything?

    doris

    Paul Yoon author of “SNOW HUNTERS” A great short read…208 pages of elegant prose. Winner of the 2014 New York Public Library”Young Lions Fiction Award”….the Simon & Shuster review describes the beauty of this novel is “Brief simple sentences that have the effect of making you slow down to read them”

    Elissa Malcohn

    Got this link from an online friend whom I met via a creative nonfiction group. “Why it’s so hard to read a book right now, explained by a neuroscientist,” Constance Grady’s interview with Oliver J. Robinson, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College, London:
    https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/5/11/21250518/oliver-j-robinson-interview-pandemic-anxiety-reading

    SusanH

    I’m going to read this too. One thing that was actually helpful to me today is that I listened to a lot of the testimony of four doctors, including Fauci, to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and it was the most informative, calm, reasonable senate hearing I’ve heard. The questioning was not extreme. Good questions were asked, not a whole lot of politics, although Elizabeth Warren criticized Trump, but the panel included her, Bernie Sanders, Mitt Romney, Tammy Baldwin, and they were all good. (I wish this panel and these doctors were in charge of things.… Read more »

    Susan

    Yes, I felt the same way. It’s not only that his questions were not realistic nor well thought-out, it was the tone of voice/posture/attitude in which they were asked. “Dr Fauci, you’re not the be-all and end-all…” Have some respect, Senator. But I thought Fauci’s response to him was stellar.

    KevinW

    I don’t know if they are technically one-sitting books for most people (250-300 pages), but I blitzed thru Tony Earley’s “Jim The Boy” and “The Blue Star”. Certain books become one-sitters when I literally can’t put them down (“Roots” and “Catcher In the Rye” for example, both of which my teenaged self stayed up all night to finish, without meaning to). Earley strikes me as a sort of kinder, gentler Carson McCullers. His short story “Charlotte’ was a hoot. I have no interest in pro wrestling, but Bob Noxious was irresistible. James Carabatsos’ novelization of the film “Heroes” was a… Read more »

    KevinW

    Yeah, actually I think I’d already started it and then finally just got the book from the library and finished the unread parts. I seem to remember somebody’s grandmother’s Readers Digest which may have been the gateway drug…so maybe it was a two-sitter…

    …so, if you just read the Cliff’s Notes, would that be a baby-sitter?

    SusanH

    This isn’t a “one-sitter” but it solved my attention span problem. I have been waiting for a book to grab me and absorb me and finally found it. I was looking for good books about pandemics and such, as I always like to read about the thing that’s depressing me. That way I can continue to obsessively ruminate but call it a literary pursuit. Anyhow, someone online suggested that the best book about an epidemic was Camus’ The Plague. Oh my gosh, what a wonderful idea. I hadn’t read it since college, and didn’t want to order and wait for… Read more »

    Susan

    I just emailed this to you because I wasn’t sure if I could get this reply working again, but here is the link again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKnCnY5wbxU. Would love to know if you get a chance to listen to it what you think.




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