Yep. That was a pretty confusing title. Mostly because it's paradoxical and logical and completely relatable in all its horrific ridiculosity.
Let's consider the term: book hangover.
Two nouns. One word is one of the most amazing words ever written. The other word represents a syndrome of withdrawal and physical ache and dejectedness that has nothing positive about it whatsoever.
Put them both together and you get blessed, wonderful, hair-pulling complexity. You hate it. But you want it. And you chase it down, again and again.
What's a book hangover? asks the person who's been living in a bubble in the middle of a no-signal book-free wasteland of Why Do I Even Continue to Exist Because Obviously I Haven't Learned to Truly Live Yet.
For those poor, unfortunate souls, I say this: a book hangover is the syndrome a reader experiences after having become completely immersed in a book's world only to be ripped mercilessly out of it by the words "The End". Two crueler words have never been uttered. Look what happens when they show up.
Lovers break up long before one is finished loving. Knitters run out of yarn long before they are done knitting. Toast butterers find themselves desperately scraping out the thinnest smears because half their bagel is still naked but it's no use. They will have to choke down that dry crust because the butter dish has cried "No more!"
And readers are forced to close a book and put it down because the author said The End. Now there are no more pages to read but those characters live in your head. The feels aren't done. You can't sleep because you still see those scenes played out, over and over. Work/school/everything is impossible because you can't stop thinking about that damned book.
Hydration and naps and Alka Seltzer can't fix a book hangover. But there is a cure.
Hair of the Dog That Bit You
Alcohol creates hangovers because as alcohol is broken down in the body, it gets converted into aldehydes. Unlike fun alcohol, aldehyde is a miserable old sod, which is why being drunk is a lot more fun that being hungover. It's just science.
But add a little water and those aldehydes undergo the miracle of transformation and get turned back into alcohol. Bye bye, misery! We got the fun stuff back!
Bloody Marys help, too, because you get hydration, electrolytes, and a liddle bit of something-something to ease off on the aldehyde attack. Plus, you get celery to crunch on, and celery is widely if mistakenly believed to be considered a health food.
So, what's the cure for a book hangover? Not water or terrible-sounding cocktails, obviously, but there's definitely a need for some hair of the dog.
Pick up another book.
Yes, it leads to a viscous cycle that leads to memes and Instagram barrages and new merch at Hot Topic. But let's be honest. There are no subsequent underage fines, no nights in the tank, no drunk dials leading to awkward avoidances of eye contact later on. That should automatically make it a good thing.
Prevention isn't Key—It's Condemnation
Of course, you could avoid the whole book hangover thing by never reading anything ever again.
But, a word of caution. Nobody ever says Boy, oh boy, abstinence! Do you know why? Because book abstinence is an unthinkable exile, an unjust condemnation. Why would you even think about doing that to yourself?
You did nothing wrong. You innocently picked up a book so you could engage your mind in a pleasing way to pass time. It's not your fault the characters came to life and rose up from the pages. It's not your fault their stories were so complex and emotionally riveting that you not only identified, you lived through them. You cried. You laughed. You highlighted your favorite passages and made quote art on Pic Monkey and I am here to tell you that none of it's your fault.
It's the author's.
That author did this to you. She may not have put the book in front of you and turned each page while you helplessly consumed her passion and craft but she may as well have. She concocted that wonderful elixir of plot and personality and perfection. She dreamed up those characters who haunt your every thought like the sweet echo of a beloved ghost. She's responsible for the way you see that book now everywhere you look, every time you go online or walk into a bookstore.
She's the one who cast this sheen of her book over every aspect of your life, so that you tear up when you run into Walmart because you see strawberries in the cooler as soon as you go in. Strawberries. That character had strawberry-blonde hair and she died of diverticulitis because of a strawberry smoothie she shared with the boy she loved but could never have because he had to move to the opposite side of the world, like the exact opposite, as in drill straight down and there he'd be so you know he couldn't get any further from her so better diverticulitis than a broken heart. Next stop is an ugly cry in front of the packaged salad cooler. Oh my God, the feels—
So, blame the author for your book hangover.
And then blame the next one because he is going to do the same damn thing to you because you will never, ever learn. You say "never again" but it's just a matter of time until you're standing in the bookstore, cracking open another heartache. Book hangovers are part of a vicious cycle of love-hate-miserable joy...and I hope there will never, ever be a cure for them.
Just as I hope there will be no end to the supply of authors who cause them.