The Book That Made You Call in Sick to Work

Call it a mental health day. Sometimes you get so lost in the world of your book, you just can't get yourself out of the house. You barely remember to eat or sleep. You might even call in sick to work.

I would never do such a thing – ahem – but I’ve had friends who have done it. And I’ve understood.

I know what it’s like to get lost in a book. I remember a time when a book (books, actually) captured me to the point where I couldn’t stop reading – literally could not stop reading – for days.

It was during winter vacation several years ago. I was living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan at a major publishing house, which had an amazing holiday vacation package. We were off from Christmas Eve until the New Year.

I had all kinds of things planned for my time off: ice skating at Rockefeller Center, long bundled-up walks in Prospect Park, afternoons at the movie theater on Flatbush, dinners and drinks out with friends.

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None of that happened. I spent most of my vacation in my apartment. I blame George R. R. Martin.

A friend gave me the first book in the series (yes, I’m talking about A Song of Fire and Ice, the series that inspired the hit show Game of Thrones). I remember holding its mass market heft in my hand and thinking, “It’s been a long time since I’ve read fantasy, I’m not sure….”

But over dinner, my friend couldn’t stop talking about it – the cultural complexity, the inventiveness, the rich characters, the magic, the politics, the sex – so I promised to read it.

I started the first book, A Game of Thrones, the next morning. I read all day long. I ordered in from the Thai place down the street. I turned off my phone. I cuddled with my cat, and as the snow fell outside, I read and read and read and read.

For days, I would read until 3:00 a.m. and fall asleep with my cheek pressed into the pages. I’d sleep in until 10, then read through the afternoon, doze off at 7:00, wake at 1:00 in the morning, make some tea, and pick up right where I left off.

I lost track of whether it was day or night. I was cocooned in my apartment: just me, Coltrane, and my book. Over the next four days I left my apartment for only one reason: to buy the next books in the series.

When I stumbled out into the bright winter cold, I felt raw. I walked through the busy streets of Park Slope in a daze.

I could barely speak to the person behind the register at the bodega. I think I’d forgotten how to talk. So I stocked up on groceries, trudged back home with arms full of food and books, and settled back into the world of Westeros.

I devoured the entire series in one sitting. When I was done, I had a serious book hangover. I was unfit for society.

I re-entered the “real” world with a movie. I don’t remember which one, a romantic comedy, I think. It helped, a little. When it was over, I felt almost like myself again – almost ready to attend to the friends and family and holiday fun that awaited me.

So I went out and enjoyed myself. If my friends noticed that I was quieter than usual, they didn’t say. Truth is: my body was there – in the cafe, my friend’s apartment, the book store – but my mind was still in the world of the book.

[Photo Credit: bikeriderlondon/]

Have you ever been so caught up in your book you’ve barely left the house, neglected your chores, forgotten to eat, gone without sleep, or even – gasp! – called in sick to work? Confession time in the comments.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Robin

    In my ultimate nerd moment, I missed Comic-Con in San Diego even though I had tickets, because the new Harry Potter book had been released at midnight the night before and I couldn’t stop reading it.

  • Jill

    I purchased 50 Shades at a book store out of town & paid in cash with no rewards card so my transaction was “off the grid”.

  • giaguara

    I confess…
    I have huge detective crushes to types I wouldn’t like in the real life (like Harry Hole or Harry Bosch, and many more detectives like them).
    I have had way too many nights up until 4 AM with “just one more chapter”, and I’m not talking about just Ludlum, Nesbø, or Connelly. And I don’t even feel quilts about that…
    I can’t do on-call weekends, travel, holidays, or spend time by the pool without decent reads.
    And, continuing with the read under the blanket habit I had as a kid, I confess I have installed kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. Just because, while I prefer >90% of my books as analog reads, iPhone is the perfect thing for reading under the blanket when I can’t fall asleep. And since I have Overdrive on it too, my sleep time is kind of suffering…

    • Great confessions, one and all! Totally guilt free, if you ask me.

      • giaguara

        But reading something nice until 4 AM just feels as guilty as drinking a whole bottle do whisky, or eating a whole tub of ice cream or a whole cake. (Hmm… Booklimia = when one can’t stop reading until the whole book or five is already gone?)

        • OMG. I just spit out my tea! That’s hilarious! I love that guilty feeling of reading until 4 am, even with the hangover that comes the next day….

  • Jennifer Smeth

    A million times yes! Not sure you can call yourself a serious reader if you haven’t done this at least once — twice — a million times over. I have not called out sick but I have pushed off doing chores or made muse do late to appointments because of a book 🙂

  • techeditor

    I’ve read a few books that I got so caught up in that I didn’t leave the house. But that was always on a weekend, my days off work. I would never call in sick so I could read a book. I’m glad you wouldn’t, either because that is immature and irresponsible. I never forget to eat, but I can say that some books were so good that I kept reading through hunger pains. I ALWAYS keep reading a good book way past bedtime, then get up for work at 4:30 a.m.

    • dawnmomofreed

      I think you’re being a little harsh, especially for some of us who have been working since we got our permits at 15. I know in my 20’s especially, I made more more immature reasons to stay home, than to read.however, Something tells me on my deathbed I wont be saying “I shouldn’t have stayed home and made love all day, or stayed out all night counting stars and watching the sunrise, or stayed up so late reading a great book”! IMO if you don’t make it a habit, you don’t regret it.

      • techeditor

        I guess you’re right that saying “immature and irresponsible” is too harsh. I apologize. That’s what I would think of myself if I called in sick so I could read a book. Books, after all, wait for you, unlike movies unless you DVR them.

        • dawnmomofreed

          I do DVR them, so far one movie has actually been as good as the book, ‘Gone with The Wind” but then again i read the book after. I am saying slowing down and doing something for you once isn’t going to make you a bad person or immature, it makes you human, and you may have needed that mental health/sick day to recharge!! Life is short, trust me this I know, ive lost many any family members, and the ones that were not tragically taken (they’re all tragedies but some you can prepare for) They all wish they’d spent more time with their family, telling stories , laughing, doing what they wanted. I come from a long line of worker bees constantly working, and this is what I’ve learned from those experiences..

          • Definitely life is too short. I recently raised funds for pediatric cancer research. I’m also disabled. I didn’t plan at 25 to become so ill that there are days when I can’t even read due to severe daily migraines. Unless your job pertains to something like say the doctor or firefighter or policeman, the world is not going to stop if you stay home to read a good book. One of my kids favorite things to do over the summer was an all night reading pass. They had to stay in bed , they had to be quiet , and no bringing junkfood into the bed or sneaking snacks. I can’t think of a better bad habit to teach my kids 🙂

  • I have never done that, but I have cancelled plans with people so that I could stay home and read. Because nerdiness in that way is GOOD! 😀

    -Rebecca @ Love at First Book

  • Crystal Wall

    I have been hiding under the covers with a flashlight to read (yeah, I’m old school) since I was 5. I am 41 now. I have been known to stay up until I finish a book. Sleep deprived, and a little bitchy but satisfied none the less. I have read at the drive-thru, red-lights (I KNOW!) and stayed extra in the bathroom to finish a chapter. I cant help it. Books are my escape. The real world takes a time out when a new book opens, and time stops until I close it. Anywhere, any time!

    • Karen Stewart

      I used to do the same thing as a kid! (And I do the same things you do as an adult!) When I open a book, it’s like diving into a pool, and I don’t have to come up for air until the back cover closes. *sigh*

  • dawnmomofreed

    I was reading the first one of the books from the Outlander series, in case you didn’t know they average around 900 pages(which when you read books as fast as me, you start looking for thicker books!), single spaces very small type, I started it around 10am (no kids then) on my day off, and read it all morning, all afternoon, all evening. I got to the point where I was, saying okay at 11am im going to stop… next I look up and its 12:45 am, so then its at 1:00 am I’ll go to sleep. A little after 1am i put the book down turn out the light, and roll over, only I couldn’t go to sleep, what had happened was vividly going around in my head, wat would happen next was about killing me with curiosity, so after 20 minutes I stopped trying and decided just one more chapter! around 4am I finally finished the book. The big decision next was do I sleep for 2 hours and then get up for work or start the second book and just go in.. got i miss my 20’s

  • peacesun

    Yep, if it’s a real page-turner, I’ve been known to stay up to finish the book in a night. So the next day is foggy and I walk through in a daze. There’s something about a riveting book that makes my day, afternoon, evening and night.

  • Guin Reese

    “Mama Day” by Gloria Naylor, I was so engrossed in the story it felt like being one of the characters or a fly on the wall. I was crying so hard when I finished it you would have thought there was death in my family.

  • Candy

    It was years ago when “Interview with the Vampire” came out. I called in to work and spent the whole day, and into the night reading it.

  • Bonnie Johnson

    I just take my kindle to work and read in any dull part of the day, breaks, lunch and have even stayed just to finish books but never called in. I am off to a retreat though next month and I am taking 2 of Debbie’s books with me that I will start and finish while I am there. Can’t wait. They are already packed.

  • Victoria

    I can totally relate. Once I am transported into the story there is no coming back. Not to eat, sleep or do chores. When I’m finished I’m so depressed. The world I love so much has been stripped from me. The characters I have come to love are gone. I have to come back to this boring world where there is no magic. Until I pick up the next book and leave again.

  • Sue Ramey Atkins

    Well I have never called off work for a book (do I look stupid enough to confess that online?) but there have been many nights with little sleep because of a good book, most recently Jeffrey Archer’s Sins of the Father and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As a child I spent many a night sitting in the bathroom reading after everyone else was in bed.

  • RaceMom

    In the spirit of the question (what book vs. whether I’d ever really call in sick to work to read), I have to say the Shades of Grey trilogy did it for me. I was completely surprised and had actually deferred reading this for awhile because I had misjudged both the books and my liking them! It was the kinda book you look to carve out even a 15 min slice of time to get a few pages in.

  • Ashley

    For one of my first-year English lit courses in college, I had to read Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” I had put it off and wound up reading it the night before. My plan had been to do the ol’ collegiate skim, but I became transfixed. I can still remember closing the book during sunrise, dropping back onto my pillow (I sat up with it all night), taking a deep breath, and going right back to the beginning. I ended up not going to that 9:30 AM class to discuss the book because I was too busy writing about it in my journal.

  • Gail

    The Thornbirds did it for me and that was just the beginning a lifetime of ignoring the world when a great book was discovered. Novels and thrillers do it for me often by authors from anywhere but the US. Somehow there is more realism and less money elsewhere. Gail

  • zoeoz

    I read fast, so that when it comes to books I’ve had to choose with text size and page count in the choice since memory serves. So Bigger had always meant a good shot at a longer experience. If you(royal) will admit to having not only read but enjoyed “50 shades…..” to this extent then I mshall admit my secret book love “The Stand”. I have read every iteration of it, but the longest unabridged vs wad the longest single book binge that was not Dune, or Homer.
    Yes I would call in sick for a book. Not if I was a teacher or a surgeon! We rush about and don’t stop for ourselves in this country. Has a society fallen because of a siesta culture?
    We don’t take that time and then need prozac. I would rather a longer day with leisure than a just as long a day with stress.
    A question? For me RIF will always mean “Reading is Fundamental”. I have always thought that everyone in a public school from k-12 got that magic handout of incredible discounted books in school, to take home pick and return a small amount of money and get new books and a new take home every 2-6 weeks. That was my parents one allowed spend. It was maybe a program for city’s kids.

  • Martha Reynolds

    “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Stayed up until 4:30 one night.

  • Lisa

    OMG, I must be a series addict and like others I have to be up at 4 a.m. for work! I blame it on Jean Auel with her Earth Children series. Then Diana G. with the Outlander series (which I read them all in just over a month). Stephenie Myers, Veronica Roth, E.L. James, J.R.R. Tolkien, etc. The list is long and mighty. I cannot stop at one book in a series either. I have to know what happens and I hate to cheat by reading the end or close to the end. I actually read each book. Then just to torture myself some more, I may re-read some series just to pick up on the things I may have missed by reading them so quickly to figure out what happens.
    I’m now reading the Outlander series again because according to her website the new one that was supposed to be out now will most likely be finished and published this summer. I’m always grateful I have an understanding hubby, because when I get into a good book/series, he knows to leave me alone. I’m also grateful to have apps that give me the ability to read on my phone, tablet, iPad, and any other device so when I don’t have the physical book I can keep reading when I get the chance throughout the day at lunch or on mass transit.

  • I sneered at all of the people who were trading in their” real” books for an ereader. And then…… I got a nook. And I never looked back . One night I was devouring one of the Enchanted Inc books by Shanna Swendson. I completely lost track of time space where I was who I was …. Until my husband walked in startling me. I literally didn’t know where I was . Everything felt so bizarre like I had suddenly been transported…. Like Dorothy by twister… Or Harry by Portkey. That’s when I realized that ebooks were every bit as addictive as a book off my shelf. Also when I bawled during the intro of a book and teardrops got all over my Kindle screen ( it was John Green’s intro to This Star Won’t Go Out). And here I am 4:30 AM reading blogs about staying up late reading … Oh the irony! By the way I just got a Kindle for my birthday lol

  • Marwah

    Reading these comments…I think I found my kind of people!! I hope we are not too rare in this world of technology (although reading books on kindle etc has become popular). I always stay up late fact the first time I did stay up really late was so I could continue reading and I felt sooo guilty staying up till 2-3AM which was hours passed my bed time.

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