Book Hangovers and You

How It Begins

You close the back cover with a finality that reverberates through your core. You rest your hand on the cover a moment, feeling like there should be another page to turn, and a vague sense of emptiness surrounds you.

Perhaps your heart, tender after the final emotional moments of the story, feels sensitive. Perhaps your mind, racing after the adrenaline of the denouement, continues to buzz. You couldn’t wait to get to the end but you also wanted more, and like running off the end of a moving sidewalk, your inertia meets reality and you are left stunned.

It’s no big deal, you think.

But then you pick up your next book and make no headway.

You put off picking it up again, feeling echoes of the empty buzzing sensitivity that so recently overwhelmed you. After distracting yourself with chores, binge-worthy TV shows, and conversations in which you attempt to convince fellow readers to try the book you just finished, you eventually pick up yet another new book only for the prose to feel flat and the book itself to feel awkward in your hands.

You turn to the web, sending out cries for help: you think you just need a “really good book” and are hoping a random stranger might throw out just the right title. Something to get you back into reading again.

But the truth is much more complicated. You still love reading, but you can’t bear to pick up a new book. The last book you read left you with such strong feelings, you are not ready to engage again.

The Diagnosis 

You have a book hangover.

Your Library Can Help

Recovering from a book hangover might take only a few days, but occasionally the malaise can last months. Symptoms mimic other chronic reading conditions like those who suffer from the chronic ailment "The Chaos of a Busy Life" or the acute but painful "I Have to Read for Work/School and Reading Has Become Generally Distasteful" syndrome.

Whether you remain emotionally invested in the last storyline you read, furiously angry about badly constructed plot twists, or just devastated that you finished a book in a series for which the next title won’t come out for months, you must recognize and acknowledge your literary ennui to begin your recovery.

When you are finally able to acknowledge your book hangover, the library offers the following advice:

  1. Talk to someone. It’s best to find a listener who also read the offending book. They can sympathize with your feelings, and possibly offer title-specific advice for how to move on. Book groups offer a ready-made recovery group after a bad book hangover; the library runs several book groups and also offers Book Club Discussion Kits you can use to create your own group. The saying “misery loves company” is a cliché for a reason.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

The Toni Morrison Book Club – In this startling group memoir, four friends—black and white, gay and straight, immigrant and American-born—use Toni Morrison's novels as a springboard for intimate and revealing conversations about the problems of everyday racism and living whole in times of uncertainty.

  1. Try something short. Not a short story, but something shorter still that incorporates heavy visual storytelling. Prescribe yourself a stack of picture books. Take a few home, choose one that looks friendly, and then take a peek at the endpapers. Wallow in the illustrations. Explore the way that the text sometimes tells one story and the illustrations another. Laugh. Cry. Reading a picture book sometimes shakes the book hangover loose, leaving your mind fresh and your heart ready to take on another story. Graphic novels sometimes also serve as a palate cleanser by focusing on visual storytelling, but go carefully as many graphic novels can bring on a book hangover of their own.

Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise – Explore how children's books ignite the imagination and how children's fiction, with its unabashed emotion and playfulness, can awaken old hungers and create new perspectives on the world.

Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman, Jodi Picoult, Brad Meltzer, and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders that Changed Their Lives – Authors share their most hilarious and most heart-wrenching experiences to explain why superheroes matter, what they tell us about who we are, and what they mean for our future.

  1. Pivot to something creative. Instead of consuming another’s story, do something to express your own inner life. Tap into the library’s Creativebug resources or return to an abandoned hobby or crafting pastime you haven’t tried in a while.

The Baby on the Fire Escape – An insightful and provocative exploration of the relationship between motherhood and art through the lives of women artists and writers.

Creativity, Inc – Presents a distillation of the ideas and management principles the co-founder and president of Pixar has used to develop the company's successful creative culture, reflecting on how Pixar's commitment to specific values has involved a daily effort.

  1. Read about books. Hover on the edges of the literary world. Read bad book reviews on Goodreads or try following some book positive accounts on Instagram. Being near the book world but not in it can induce a transitionary state that can help you reenter a book with enthusiasm instead of lethargy.

A Velocity of Being – Reflect on the joys of reading, how books broaden and deepen human experience, and the ways in which the written word forms our character. Each letter is short, sweet, and there is no reason to read them all. 

BibliophileBibliophile is the ultimate book for book lovers, but with no driving story, you are not compelled to fully engage.

  1. Brew a cup of tea and borrow a friendly dog or cat. Being near animals offers great general stress relief and can assist with the distress associated with book hangovers.

The Tea Dragon Society – Follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

How to Be a Good Creature – Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative. No one knows this better than author, naturalist and adventurer Sy Montgomery. 

  1. Do not give up. Whether your book hangover dissipates quickly or lingers for several weeks, your reading joy will return eventually.

Quit – In the face of tough decisions, we're terrible quitters. And that is significantly holding us back.

Animal Joy – Laughter shakes us out of our deadness. An outburst of spontaneous laughter is an eruption from the unconscious that, like political resistance, poetry or self-revelation, expresses a provocative, impish drive to burst free from external constraints. 

Book Hangovers are Part of Life

In the end, we all face book hangovers knowing that no preventative measures exist. Building a tolerance remains an impossibility and a book hangover can strike at any time.

As long as readers pursue good books, we expose ourselves to the risk of loving, hating, or connecting so much that the post-book let-down is overwhelming. Nonetheless, we continue to explore our literary world and dive in, knowing the potential price we might pay pales in comparison to an excellent reading experience.