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Finding (Book) Love Again

Book Hangover

Every reader has likely experienced the book hangover at some point in their life. A quick internet search will bring up memes, videos, t-shirts, and even suggested remedies for this condition. But what exactly is a book hangover? Well, I’m currently experiencing a bit of one, so allow me to explain.

In a post exploring the psychology of a book hangover, Book Riot contributor Clare Barnett explains that it all starts with getting lost in a great book—an experience every lucky reader knows and loves. Turns out there’s a word for this phenomenon—“emotional transportation.” When a book transports you to another time or place, your own reality (the leaking faucet, unwritten reports, piling up laundry) fades to the background. You quite literally feel a part of the narrative. You become invested in the characters’ lives and the outcome of their story. You’re surprised to realize that a character is not, in fact, real.

When our library’s Hispanic Resource Center had the opportunity to host author Ingrid Rojas Contreras, I found myself asking her questions about the character in her debut novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and I had to apologize for thinking of her protagonist as a real person. But I can’t think of a higher compliment to an author than the fact that the character they created was so authentic that I was imagining her out in the world continuing her life beyond the pages of the book!

Another factor contributing to the book hangover phenomenon is empathy. Your brain processes the connection to a fictional character much in the same way that it experiences connection with another human being. So, yes, it’s quite normal for me--after watching several episodes of Homeland during the 2016 election--that I pondered earnestly if Carrie Mathieson was investigating Russia’s interference in our Democratic process.

So, what does one do to remedy a book hangover? Here are a few suggestions from a fellow reader and sufferer.

Return to one you love

People are generally split on whether they re-read books or not. While I don’t re-read often, there are a few go-to titles that I like to revisit every year or two. When you’re experiencing a book hangover, it can be hard to trust again. So, go with one you know well. Some of my go-to re-reads: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, anything written by Louise Erdrich, and The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

Take a break 

Take a break from reading and get your stories from films, a series, or a podcast. I know, it’s strange that I’m suggesting you take a break from reading, but sometimes you just need a reading reset—especially when you’re nursing a book hangover. Series I’m loving right now: All Creatures Great and Small and The Gilded Age.

Now for something completely different 

Switch up the format or genre and read something that is very different from something you would normally choose. Try a downloadable audiobook or read a graphic novel. Graphic novels are a wonderful way to break a reading slump. A few graphic novel suggestions: Good Talk by Mira Jacob, Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, or Taking Turns: Stories from an HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 by MK Czerwiec.

Keep it Short 

A short novel (about 250 pages or less) can be an excellent way to get back into your reading groove. Try one of these novels that can easily be read in one sitting: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, or Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Also consider a short story collection like The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw or Laura Lippman’s newest collection Seasonal Work.

Ask a professional 

Ask a bookseller or librarian for a suggestion, but not just any suggestion. Ask them for their “sure bets,” the books that they suggest over and over because they are loved universally by almost every reader. Some of my go-to sure bets for readers stuck in a slump: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Trust me, your librarian or bookseller will have titles at the ready. You will make their day!

These are some things that have worked for me, but I’d also suggest that you take the opportunity to fully embrace and wallow in your feelings for a bit. After all, isn’t it amazing that the written word created such a powerful response in your brain? When you’re ready to love again, the books will be waiting.

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.
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