Every so often when I finish a book, I give a little nod and think, “Yeah, this could be a read-in-a-day book.” This is something that goes back to when I was a kid — when, that is, I was a lot more likely to actually have a whole day to dedicate to nothing but reading — though I think it was Garen who was the first to actually perform the feat, by getting through Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth in a single day. Naturally, I felt the need to rise to the challenge; my first book-in-a-day was Doctor Who and the Robots of Death. Since then, I’ve accumulated a short list of titles that can, if the need arises, be called on to be read in a single day.
Now, a read-in-a-day book doesn’t just have to be a short book. In fact, it shouldn’t be too short, otherwise reading it one day doesn’t really mean much. (The Mr Men books are out.) It has to be a book just long enough that reading it really does take most of a day. The most important thing about it is that it should really call out to be read in one day. In other words, it should be exciting, compelling, and absorbing.
I’m happy to say that Richard Matheson’s SF/horror classic, I Am Legend, is a definite addition to this category. The reasons:
First off, its basic premise. Robert Neville is the last human alive on a near-future Earth whose population has been turned into bloodthirsty vampires. Simple, immediately dramatic, and definitely appealing to my particular hunger for man-versus-monster situations (Alien, The Thing, etc.). (I’ve also had several dreams of being in a similar situation, which is always a plus point.)
Secondly, its prose is clear, but not so simple as to be boring. I’ve been reading some Hemmingway short stories recently, and I thought I detected a bit of influence there — though maybe that can be said of all mid-20th century American fiction, I don’t know. Anyway, the images flick off the page as effortlessly as frames in a film.
Thirdly, the story keeps moving. In some cases, there are the situations you just know, from the premise, are going to have to happen. For instance, we know at some point Robert Neville’s just going to have to get caught outside his vampire-proofed home when the sun goes down; it happens. It’s no surprise, but it’s still thrilling. Then there are the turns you don’t expect, and for me, this includes the ending, which I won’t give away, but I will say it was definitely a more intelligent conclusion than you’d expect from a pot-boiler. So this book, as well as being thrilling and readable, is also intelligent.
Thrilling. Readable. Intelligent. The perfect ingredients for a read-in-a-day book.
I Am Legend. I recommend it