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What Makes a Book a Page-Turner?

June 3, 2019 | 1-min read

I find that, for me, books fall into two categories:

  1. Books that I pick up on-and-off. They take me weeks to finish.
  2. Books that grab me by the throat and won’t let me go. I read them obsessively while waiting in grocery store lines and late into the night until my eyes hurt. They take me mere days to finish. I am devastated when they end.

There is rarely an in-between.

I've been wondering: What makes a 3-day book?

 A bookshelf at the brick-and-mortar Amazon Books store in Chicago.

I’ve been thinking about this both because I’ve been a bored reader lately — I've failed to find books that really grab me — and because I got feedback on the second draft of my novel GURU.

The consensus was overwhelmingly, “This is well-written…but boring.”

It’s definitely not a 3-day book.

And identifying what does make one can be tricky. I’m not sure what the 3-day books I love have in common.

Here are a few of my favorite page-turners from the last couple of years:

  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Beach by by Alex Garland
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Misery by Stephen King
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  • After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry

They’re not all obviously pulp fiction suspense; three are memoirs, one is nonfiction. Nine of these 10 books have a first-person narrator; this seems to be something I'm specifically drawn to.

I suppose what they all have in common is that I couldn't stop asking, What happens next?

But turning What happens next? into actionable editing steps for my manuscript isn't as easy as saying, My narrator's POV should be first-person.

To be sure, there are infinite writing tips, courses, and books that (attempt to) teach writing an unputdownable book. Don't worry; I'm wading through those as I completely rethink some aspects of GURU.​​​​

What I want to know is — what are your page-turners? And why?

What books were unputdownable for you? 

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