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When Was the Last Time You Had a “Book Hangover”?

By: Jen Shoop

A Magpie recently wrote: “I just finished The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See and have a complete book hangover…will need in excess of a few days to fully digest and ruminate before moving onto my next pick. It reminded me a lot of Pachinko – beautiful storytelling, completely thrown into a new (to me) world and culture, complex relationships and family dynamics over decades – essentially, all of the makings of a great novel. I found myself googling so many things to help visualize aspects of the culture and day to day life (anyone else do this?! I’m a visual person…).”

I am new to the phrase “book hangover,” but I know intimately its symptoms, particularly the frisson of not wanting to finish the last few chapters, but needing to know what happens, and then the dimness of the days after you’ve shut the book jacket, they way they feel as though they are missing something. Which they are. Reading a great book is like being in a fabulous but short-lived relationship. It calls to you all day long, seeking your engagement. It rewards you. And then it ends, abruptly! Other symptoms may include:

+Manic googling, as the Magpie above mentioned; I’ve found myself doing this a bit with Remarkably Bright Creatures. I found myself watching videos of great Pacific octopi (can they really contort themselves through tiny openings?), and Google image searching Puget Sound, and all kinds of things. A hallmark of being sucked into a fictive universe.

+Light irritability when reading the next book in your queue. (“But I just want more of the same…”)

+Missing certain elements of the book in certain parts of your home, or neighborhood, or even during certain parts of the day. I feel this way about Taste by Stanley Tucci, which I listened to on audiobook last summer. Even still, I cannot turn certain corners of my neighborhood without thinking of him and wishing I could read it anew all over again. That book is an interesting one because though none of it is groundbreaking, Tucci is such a lovely companion, his voice so rich and conversational and self-deprecating and delightful, and he makes life feel warm and engaging. Reading him is a reminder of how short life is, and why we must take great pains to enjoy ourselves. There is a great quote by E.B. White: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.” Tucci left me in a similar headspace. Lean in, girl!

+Envying people who have not yet read the book.

+Exploring the author’s backlist hoping that somehow you’ll find the pre-story or post-story of one of the characters you loved from the novel you just finished.

+Contemplating how long is intellectually appropriate to wait before re-reading.

+Comparing other books through its prism.

+Needing to take a break from reading.

The book that gave me the worst reading hangover was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. The writing is, simply, tremendous. The way she dresses her characters in words, their dimensionality, their hyperrealism — it absolutely blew my mind and transported me to a different world. I was deeply invested in those characters and missed them when they were gone. (Full, rave, fan-girl review here.)

What about you? What book has given you a bad hangover? I feel like this is a great prompt for surfacing a list of can’t-miss books! Please share!

Post-Scripts.

+I of course immediately added The Island of Sea Women to my summer reading list.

+Literary life raft.

+A list of 10 books that changed my life. I still stand by all of these though this is a very old post.

+Giving yourself a soft landing when you need one.

+A podcast that truly released something in me — or released something from me — on apologies.

Shopping Break.

+Summersalt is offering 30% off sitewide! I mentioned this brand recently — I know many of you are big fans! — as they recently reached out to me and I can’t wait to give their swim, especially their best-selling ruffle backflip suit, a try. A Magpie reader chimed in with this to say about the Backflip Suit: “I have both the ruffled and ruched versions and they are basically my dream summer-w-small-kids suit: the back frame is a little unexpected, neckline is plungey but totally stays put, and the leg has a very flattering high cut. I’m very picky about cuts and this one hits all the marks for me).” High praise! If that’s too chesty for you, I just saw a mom at our pool wearing The Sidestroke in white, and I did a triple take. Love the interesting back! I appreciate that the site showcases different body types in the suits and has its own grading system on cheekiness and chest coverage.

+I also like Summersalt’s cute French terry pieces, especially this sweatshirt!

+This cotton eyelet button-front dress looks perfect for all the mom things, whether you’re nursing, pregnant, going from swim meet to dinner, etc. A great blend of casual and chic, and love the sage green hue.

+Zara just marked down a lot of very chic items. This dress is one of my top selling items this entire year, and it’s now under $60. Also love this cute mini caftan. More of my favorite Zara finds here, and most are including in the sale.

+25% off my favorite vitamin C product ever. You have to be a member of Biossance’s “Clean Crew” but it’s free to join and worth it.

+Love the pattern on this top. Under $120 and so great for white jeans/shorts.

+Last summer, a Magpie said she bought the enormous pump-style bottle of Supergoop sunscreen (my favorite — great, liquid-y consistency that is easy to apply, smells lovely, and really lasts) and kept it at her back door as an easy way to incorporate SPF application into her daily routine. I’m following suit this year!

+Loft nailed it with this striped everyday dress — SO good! LOVE.

+This SEA dress is speaking my language.

+My neighbor used some of those rechargeable stick lamps on her dining table over the weekend and they were SO clever and chic! Love the options with striped shades.

+Just came across this cute swim company that seems to have designed the most genius rash guard for children ever. They are UPF 50, they zip up the front for easy on/off (such a pain to remove a wet rash guard from a toddler), and are $25, which feels reasonable! I love that they have really cute patterns, like gingham, and great solid options, too. Target also has a great inexpensive option (currently on sale for under $10). Doesn’t have the zipper or UPF, and has more limited color options, but a good back-up.

+A great throw-and-go summer dress for under $50.

+Who else had one of these Simon Says games as a kid? I just ordered one for my daughter and she’s hooked.

+Loved this cropped fitness tee so much, I ordered in both colors.

+DYING over these bone china Tiffany espresso cups. SO fabulous and cute!

+Pam Munson just marked down a bunch of her bags — how fab is this one?

+Has anyone tried the running shorts from Jolyn? I randomly stumbled across this brand on Instagram and the fit looks good, and the price is right…!

+Minimalist-chic caftan.

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33 thoughts on “When Was the Last Time You Had a “Book Hangover”?

  1. Recent:
    Demon Copperhead
    Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

    Past:
    Cutting for Stone
    Rebecca

    and the ultimate book hangover, emotional bruising, book that will stay in my life forever is A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghara. Brilliant and devastating.

  2. I am adding “book hangover” to my vocabulary! It perfectly describes the way I felt after The Book of Longings. Another appropriate descriptor for me would be: immersive experience. Sue Monk Kidd built a vivid historical fiction portrayal of biblical times. While many characters are traditional products of their time period, there is also modern element to the book that renders some of the characters relatable particularly the heroine Ana. I felt a connection with every character whether positive or negative or dialectically both. The book left me emotionally and intellectually drained in the best possible way. As I write this, the book still conjures up strong emotions for me.

    1. I’ve heard such good things about this one, and the way you’ve described it wows me. Thank you for sharing.

      xx

    2. LO — Oh my goodness, 100% YES re: The Book of Longings. I kept thinking about it for a good 2 weeks after I finished the book and couldn’t read anything else for a while! It truly was an immersive experience. I didn’t want Ana’s story to end!

  3. Demon Copperhead! I could not stop thinking about it – the richly-drawn characters and scenes, Kingsolver’s mastery of dialogue and language, the compassion in the story. I proselytized about it to everyone for a few weeks so that I’d have more people with whom to talk about it. Cannot recommend it enough! The hangovers weren’t as intense, but I also loved Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and was blown away by Trust by Hernan Diaz.

    1. OK, I’m sold on Demon Copperhead. It’s be on my radar and on the tip of everyone’s tongue for so many weeks now but I just couldn’t find the appeal. But now you’re the second or third Magpie to list it as hangover-inducing. Going to do it!

      xx

  4. I was thinking of your post today because I’m in the midst of a book hangover – Amor Towles “A Gentleman in Moscow”. I found myself doing exactly what you are doing. Googling certain phrases that I assume were in the Soviet lexicon “former person”, wishing I had the stamina to actually read “The Brothers Karamazov” but I find the naming conventions challenging. I picked up one of my old favorites tonight “Reading Lolita in Tehran” which like the Towles book, contain what I would call an active first-person narrator and a penchant for references. References to other books and music are all over the place. It’s one of the reasons why I love Lin-Manuel Miranda (as though this is a hot take). His verses are layered! He’s quoting Macbeth and Biggy Smalls within the same song. What is it about authors who are able to self reference other literature? Is it just that I love books? Maybe I just love reading about people talking about books which of course, is why I so love your blog. It affords a snapshot into the literature degree I wish I had.

    1. Ahh! Thank you so much, friend. I’m so flattered. It brings me so, so much joy to ensconce myself in this community of women who love talking about and picking apart literature.

      Re: allusiveness. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that particular literary technique, and it’s deployed in so many different ways to so many different effects. In Lin-Manuel Miranda, I think it often reminds me of the lived history of language, the way it accrues different meanings and inflections (often class and race-related) over time. And so I think it’s a really powerful way of magnifying some of the themes he’s grappling with in some of his works.

      Overall, it gives the reader this wonderful experience of going on mini-voyages, even within the space of a lyric or couplet or handful of words. You’re in the present but then you’re shuttling off to Biggy Smalls and than back to the Renaissance and then back to the present. It is just FUN, intellectually, to jump around that way, and to see the way those different reference point clang or jive.

      xx

  5. Hello…..I would like to suggest “West With The Night” by Beryl Markham…..subject of the PBS documentary World Without Walls: Beryl Markham’s African Memoir. She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya Aug. 3, 1986. An aviator, in Sept 1936 she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She was independent and courageous…….for her day and for today! (Copyright 1942) In my mind, I traveled to Africa. Love this book!

  6. AH so fun to see my previous comment at the top of the page – I love comparing notes here about recent reads, literary themes, the multitude of impacts of books and poetry, etc. etc.

    And wow, your list of symptoms is spot on. I SO identify with connecting books with places – as soon as I face a wall at a bookstore or hear of someone reading an already-read tome, I’m instantly transported to when/where I read it. I still harken back to being awfully ill in Bali and reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street in a half-trance in my hotel bed years ago, finishing up Love in the Time of Cholera – an eerily presciently timed book club pick in February 2020 – on a plane back from Miami (the last plane ride for a veryyy long time), starting Seven Days in June circa 2am in a hospital bed in a desperate attempt to distract myself from the labor spikes on the screen next to me, and on and on. It’s so visceral!

    I’m in the middle of Age of Vice right now and *just* got an alert that my hold on Demon Copperhead is available from the library for my kindle. Hoping to power through my hard copy of the former in the next few days and dig in on the latter as I embark on 12 hours of flights to CA and back early next week! Although a little worried about back to back “heavy” books… TBD. May need whip through a light thriller palate cleanser – can see that book hangover incoming already!

    1. Erica – This is such a beautiful — what should we call it? — bibliologue? The books that saw you through some hard and happy moments in your life. I love that, the way those texts are anchored to those life experiences. Just another example of the way the reader is half the book, you know?

      I think I’ll read Demon alongside you.

      If you need a palate cleanser, next on my list is “The Chateau,” a thriller by a Magpie reader (!!!) that has been getting raved reviews.

      xx

      1. Thanks for creating the space for this dialogue here – love reading through the comments on all posts, but especially the book/literary ones. Adding The Chateau to my list right now (thank you!) – will likely read right before or after I queue up Demon Copperhead, depending on how this second half of Age of Vice shakes out. Can’t wait to compare notes!

  7. I must be “reading responsibly” lately, because I cannot immediately think of a book hangover, ha! Also, I’m reading a doorstop of a novel (London by Edward Rutherfurd) that is taking so long, I had to go check my goodreads to remember what I’ve read! I don’t want to mention the book that immediately came to mind, since I have already talked about it here ad nauseum (smile-grimace, Thursday Murder Club) so other than that, maybe The Fortnight in September. I enjoyed it so much that I gifted it to my mom for her birthday. Just such a lovely and calming read about a family on vacation in a simpler time. And I was googling Bognor Regis, what does a bathing hut look like, etc.

    1. HAHA “reading responsibly.” You can talk about Thursday Murder Club every day and twice on Tuesday! We love to see that kind of enthusiasm!!

      Thanks for “The Fortnight” rec — sounds delightful, and maybe what I need to pick up during the middle of the night…

      xx

  8. I just finished “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” and am SO sad it’s over! I did not want this book to end and couldn’t pick up another book for several days. By far one of the best books I’ve read in a long time…probably since reading “The Nightingale”!

    1. Oo, I’d forgotten about this, but I did have a mild hangover after that one. It was so immersive, and so different! I wanted to stay with the characters forever.

      Thanks for the reminder!

    2. The top book hangovers that come to mind for me are:

      The Book of Longings
      The Nightingale
      Hamnet
      Kite Runner
      Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

      They drew me into their respective “universe” and kept me there long after the book ended! I can so relate to the “manic googling” you mentioned, as that is the other thing that is evidence of a book hangover for me (e.g., I researched the women of the French resistance/WW2 after the Nightingale, looked up the art mentioned in Tomorrow x3, read about Sue Monk Kidd’s research/writing process for The Book of Longings, etc)

      In the memoir genre-
      When Breath Becomes Air
      Brain on Fire

  9. Loved, loved, loved
    1. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Grappled with it for many weeks after finishing.
    2. Water From My Heart by Charles Martin. Lingered with me too.

  10. On a whim I picked up a copy of Mrs Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill from my library. I don’t always love nonfiction and I don’t always love memoire…..but whoo boy. I finished this book and felt shell shocked and like maybe the president had just been assassinated. It really sent me for a ride.

  11. Most recently, Demon Copperhead, but I think my worst book hangover of all time was from Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. If you haven’t read them, you must! I am so jealous of anyone who hasn’t. She is one of the best writers of our time, and the books feel suspenseful and propulsive even though there’s nothing mystery or thriller about them (mostly, it’s a story of friendship).

    1. My mom is a die-hard Ferrante fan, and I’ve been meaning to get to this forever. I’m so intimidated! You’re making me want to take the plunge.

      xx

  12. I literally this morning just finished “ The Seamstress of Sardinia” by Bianca Pitzorno. It’s her only book translated into English. I couldn’t put it down. You are transported to a time when women had no rights especially poor working class women. It’s the story of seamstress who seemed to enjoy life even with her meager circumstances. All thanks to the lessens learned by her grandmother. You’re transported to Italy. It’s a must read, honestly couldn’t put it down.

    I have the island of sea women on my book shelf. It’s on my reading list and can’t wait to read it soon.

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