Our Reading Lives

One-Nighter Reads

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Alex Acks

Contributing Editor

Alex Acks is a writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. They've written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Alex lives in Denver with their two furry little bastards, where they twirl their mustache, watch movies, and bike. Twitter: @katsudonburi Website: katsudon.net

I think it’s a pretty universal experience–you pick up a book and start reading. It’s good. It’s REALLY good. It grabs you by the lower lip, yanks, and does not let you go. Suddenly it’s three in the morning, your stomach is complaining because you forgot to eat dinner, and you have to be up for work in four hours.

So of course, like any reasonable person would do, you make some instant ramen/microwave a burrito/eat some toast and finish the dang book. Probably reading it while standing by the microwave or getting crumbs on it in the process.

I’m not alone, right?

Most recently, the book that did this to me was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. Courtesy of a loan coming in on Overdrive, I started reading the book on the train to Nottingham. (I was stopping there for a night to visit a friend.) I at least managed to maintain my focus long enough to, you know, actually socialize with my friend until she had to go home, and then boom, I was flying through pages at a Wetherspoon and trying to not splash curry on my phone. Then I was still reading back in my hotel room. Then it was two in the morning and I wasn’t even thinking about sleep except in the abstract calculation of how many pages I had left versus what time I absolutely had to drag myself out of bed to make it to the train station.

This is the kind of experience that stands out to me because honestly, it doesn’t happen that often. There are tons of books that I really love that I still didn’t feel the need to put my life on hold so I could bolt them down in a single day. With The Poppy War, it was a combination of really conversational prose and jaw dropping is the story really going there, oh shit it is that got me. It’s heady stuff. Extra horror tension points because I did my second major in Japanese Language and Culture and my modern history course was very thorough about the horrible things Japan did in China during World War II, so I saw the parallels coming.

Other books I’ve bolted down as quickly as I could cram the words into my brain:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins got me bad. Honestly, the whole Hunger Games series did, when I read them. I bolted through all three books in two days, but this one was definitely my favorite of them.

The Stone Sky by NK JemisinThe Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin is the culmination of the series, and the previous two (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) already had me firmly by the liver. The third book just takes things up to 11, yanks the knob off, and throws it out the window. And none of my friends had read it yet, so I had no one to scream at.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn would not let my eyeballs go, and in all honesty I’m not even sure what about this book got me so bad that Flynn’s other novels haven’t. I think maybe just the internal mystery is so compelling and horrifying and I had zero guesses about what was going on… plus I really liked the narrator.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan might seem like the odd one out on this list, since it’s a romance novel and it’s definitely not running on an engine of world-destruction and danger. But it’s got the same mechanics going for it: combine characters I love plus stakes that are super important to them (you’re not physically blowing up someone’s world in romance, but you can sure be threatening their understanding of their place in it) and the result is I need to know what’s going to happen. 

What books have refused to let you go sleep or perform your responsibilities until you’ve finished them?