A Book that Takes Place in a Single Day: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2022

November 10, 2022 | Joel

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TPL Reading Challenge 2022

There is something very satisfying about a book that takes place in a single day. As one reads, it can almost feel as if the story is taking place in real time. Moreover, while most days tend to blur into one another, we have all had the experience of certain days standing out, either for good or bad. That may be what some of the books in this genre strive to achieve, that feeling of living out a memorable day in something like real time.


Ulysses by James Joyce

One book that violates all those expectations is James Joyce's Ulysses 🙂 – one of the most famous books that takes place in a single day. Ulysses enthusiasts around the world even annually celebrate Bloomsday – June 16, 1922, the day on which the book takes place – by re-enacting many of the famous scenes that take place over the course of the day in the book, including here in Toronto, . If you're feeling up for a different kind of reading challenge, go for it! Not only is it one of the most amazing achievements in fiction, but it is also an important novel in the history of challenging censorship laws. And 2022 is the book's centenary! Those who are interested may want to equip themselves with a guide to get the most out of it. With a bit of help, it can be an immensely satisfying book to read.


Saturday by Ian McEwan

For something a little more familiar, Ian McEwan's Saturday is a pleasure. Written in 2004 and set in London, it tells the story of a Saturday in the life of Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, getting through a series of errands and pleasures on his day. There are protests against the war in Iraq and a lurking but unidentified threat to him and his family, as he is trying to make it home for dinner. (Special call-out for squash enthusiasts: the description of Henry's match against his friend is brilliant.) Saturday is written with McEwan's usual precision, humour and insight. For McEwan fans, he also has a new book just published, Lessons.

Other Reading Challenge Categories:

  • A book about family
  • A book about mental health
  • A book about a city

Staff Recommendations

Here are some more suggestions from TPL staff.

Under the Volcano

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

This book is a classic by an author who worked on it for ten years while living on Vancouver Island. It takes place during the celebration of the last day of Day of the Dead in Cuernavaca. Told in a first person stream of consciousness, it chronicles the last day and death of an alcoholic consul who gradually becomes more deranged. Laden with symbols, metaphors and allusions, it is a dense read that is by turns funny and tragic.

—Linda, Librarian

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The story takes place on a single evening when a Pakistani man called Changez tells an American stranger at a cafe about his life, his time in America and his love affair with an American woman. He returns to Lahore after the 9/11 attacks, as the events deeply impacted him and the world. 

—Nisha, Librarian

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn, who himself served time in Kazakhstan for having slandered (General Secretary) Stalin, lets the events of a working day unfold for the character Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a WW II POW wrongly convicted of espionage and sent to a Siberian labour camp. Events seem to move in a whirlwind while the narrative style is succinct. The camp, run by a labyrinthine bureaucracy that would make Koestler or Orwell blush, can be understood as a microcosm for society at large, with its buddy system of back-scratching and palm-greasing, as well as arbitrary punishments, back-stabbing, etc.

The underlying message seems to be, Ah, what a struggle it is to survive. The things we do to do get through our day--e.g. do work (however disingenuously!), avoid work, obtain food, barter trade, cheat, bribe, beg and so on--all amount to what? The ability to boast that we can look forward to tomorrow?!

—Cameron, Digital Design Technician

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Epically famous, Waiting for Godot is a wonderfully absurd play about two men waiting for this person, or maybe it's a thing, named Godot. With the kind of witty banter you might expect to see in a Woody Allen movie, this play is deeply enjoyable and will surely turn you into a philosopher. Short and very sweet, this work takes place over a day and embodies literary minimalism.

I highly recommend making the effort to go to the Toronto Reference Library where you can listen to this play on vinyl in one of our cozy listening stations!

Other Reading Challenge categories

  • A book about time
  • A book about family
  • A book about mental health

—Reagan, Librarian

Player One

Player One: What Is to Become of Us: A Novel in Five Hours by Douglas Coupland

Five individuals, five chapters, five hours trapped in an airport bar. Did I mention this takes place during a global disaster? Philosophical, thought-provoking and filled with Coupland's wit.

This work of fiction was initially a series of one-hour CBC Massey Lectures Coupland delivered in 2010.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book about time

—Marnie, Librarian


Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

When the Hogfather (Discworld's version of Santa Claus/Father Christmas) goes missing, Death steps in. He's not exactly a seamless replacement but once he learns to say "ho, ho, ho" instead of "cower, brief mortals" he does pretty well. Meanwhile, Death's granddaughter Susan searches for the real Hogfather, who is the target of assassins.

Rereading this book is one of my favourite Christmas traditions.

Other Reading Challenge Categories:

  • A book about family
  • A book about magic
  • A book written by a journalist (Pratchett was a journalist in his early career)
  • A book about a season

—Margaret, Librarian

Recommendations from our Facebook Group

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "Un roman qui se déroule en une journée," there's a mix of books, eBooks and digital audiobooks to try!