Looking for a one-night stand?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I’m always on the lookout for a compelling book that I can devour in one night. It hardly ever happens anymore. I used to be able to pick up a murder mystery and toss it off before 4 am. Then I became tired of murders, what with cats solving them and A to Z series, all with the same plot.

So, rather than genre books, I went for non-category books – books designed for the general public, distinguished from a limited edition book, a textbook, a mass-market paperback.

Once in a blue moon I’d find a novel that warranted staying up all night and that I would finish in a night. But not as often as when I was younger. I decided I was jaundiced from reading too much. I had become demanding and picky.

Recently I read and fell in love with Overstory, a 2018 novel by Richard Powers that won the Pulitzer. It was worth it. But it was 512 pages, with a jumble of characters that I had to keep looking back to see who they were; I should have made a crib sheet when I started, like any savvy reader will when choosing War and Peace, but who knew? Overstory took me many days, even as I loved the story. It was about trees.

Before that I read and fell in love with the 462-page A Gentleman from Moscow, by Amor Towles, a 2016 novel that I hear Kenneth Branagh will produce and star in as a TV series. Can’t wait. With that many pages to work with, the series should last a good while.

But, finally – just picking up my usual pile of hopefuls at the library – I happened to include a short novel – 258 pages – that I finished sometime around 2 am, having begun it at 7 pm. It was right up my alley: slowly evolving story in which the characters soon become friends and companions of mine, good folks to fall into friendship with, living in New York City (one of my favorite story venues), AND the main characters were in love with words.

It’s called The Grammarians, and it’s by Cathleen Schine, published this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It’s about twin girls, Laurel and Daphne, from birth to old age, and their love affair with a dictionary.

Besides all the wordology in Grammarians, the sister story is familiar, endearing and hilarious.

I recommend it. I’m reading it again, before its two-week due date. I’ve never done this with a library book, although I did it once with a book I owned, when I was 12. It was Gone with the Wind. As soon as I closed the back cover, I opened the front and began afresh: I read that one five times before I was 25, when I was finally mature enough to understood that when Rhett said, “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn,” he meant it.

This Grammarians story is not so pulsating with drama and war; even though one of the sisters is a tad like Scarlett. It is simply a delicious, one-night read.

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