Curious about all those thoughts and feelings you get after reading a good book that prevents you from moving forward in your real life and/or your reading life? That is a book hangover, and this is your guide to its meaning and symptoms, as well as easy ways to cure it.
If you’re wondering how to get over a sad book that left you depleted or how to get over a book series in which you are deeply connected to the characters or even a fantastical setting like that in Harry Potter, then this post is for you.
As an avid reader of 100+ books per year, I know these feelings well. In fact, I’m writing this post in response to a book hangover I have from my current favorite book of the year, Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. The complex thoughts and deep emotions I felt after the final page, as well as my connection to the realistic and multidimensional characters, left me wondering, “What now?”
After all, at one point I stopped reading it for a few days just so that it wouldn’t end and, at another point, I actually referred to the characters as real people (it’s fiction– they’re not).
So, let’s talk about it! This article explores the book hangover definition, symptoms (including the books that gave me the biggest hangovers), and the cures that have helped me through my post book depression over the years.
Book Hangover Meaning
According to Urban Dictionary, a book hangover is:
1. The inability to start a new book because you are still living in the old book’s world
2. The inability to function at work/school because you were up all night binge-reading
So, a book hangover may physically mimic the symptoms of what we traditionally know as a hangover, or it may have a more mental and/or emotional impact on us.
In thinking about the psychology of a book hangover, I realized it’s not unlike processing grief and/or other emotions.
It’s often said that grief is evidence of love, so when you love a book and it ends, it makes sense that it can cause similar symptoms of a book hangover (discussed below).
And, if I have learned one thing about emotions, it is the importance that you acknowledge and process how you are feeling in a full cycle to move forward in life. This is, in part, why “toxic positivity” (when people say things like, “everything happens for a reason” or “it could be worse”), can feel more like a sucker punch than an encouraging sentiment.
So, the cures I recommended for your book hangover (also discussed below) are similar to those that help us process our overwhelming thoughts and emotions and get to a point of acceptance and the ability to move forward.
Book Hangover Symptoms
A book hangover can present more physically, through lethargic behavior, or more emotionally, through feelings of sadness, emptiness, stagnation, and bittersweetness. Someone with a book hangover may have a strong urge to communicate about the book, be unable to read or think about anything else and/or feel stuck in the world of the book.
You may stare confusedly at your bookshelf completely confused about what to read next. Or, you may call your best friend to talk about the book — perhaps even speaking about the characters and circumstances as if they were real. The final page may give you those same mixed feelings that your high school graduation did. Or, you may find yourself binging a guilty pleasure tv show or aimlessly scrolling through social media on your phone.
In my life, I have even found myself getting really protective about a book that gave me a hangover, as well as hurt when others don’t like it or say something negative about it. It feels so silly since I know we all experience books differently.
I have also personally found that a book hangover can be stronger for me than a hangover caused by another art form (although, admittedly, I didn’t think I would ever be able to live my real life again after I saw Hamilton for the first time — turns out, I still had to).
I think this is because one of the main benefits of reading is the empathy it creates. Empathy, quite literally, is “vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another[.]” And, a vicarious experience, bears a close resemblance to an actual experience. So, it’s only natural to think and feel things similar to what you would feel if you had actually experienced something.
If you, too, have experienced any or all of the above, you just may have a book hangover!
15 Books That Gave Me a Hangover
Before we talk about how to cure a hangover from a book, I wanted to share some examples of a book hangover based on my own personal reading experiences. I think that seeing exactly what types of thoughts and emotions in books can cause book hangovers can help us understand them better. And, I also just wanted to share some recommendations for books that may give you super immersive experiences too, if you’re interested.
(Many of these recommendations link to my reviews of the books, as I so often love to write about the books that affect me the most).
Beartown by Fredrick Backman: This deep, dark, and interconnected story of the inhabitants of a Swedish hockey town draws you in and makes you feel the emotions of sports AND a diverse community, just like Friday Night Lights.
Beloved by Toni Morrison: Really, all of Toni Morrison’s books cause hangovers for me, as they deal with the most horrific and traumatic life experiences one can have. I chose this one based on the subject matter involving the horrors and post-traumatic stress of slavery. It’s difficult to process content about these types of atrocities.
Cover Story by Susan Rigetti: This is an unputdownable con artist story with a massive plot twist — the kind that leaves you thinking, “Wait — what?” I simply had to go back and re-read it for clues and talk to other readers about how they interpreted the ending and the clues.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: This family saga is so famously narrated by Tom Hanks on audiobook in a way that gave me chills by the end. This unique reaction to a book is worthy of a hangover!
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: While Hannah’s books always pack an emotional punch, it was this 1970s Alaskan coming-of-age romance book that had me Googling pictures, songs, and else I could find to bring it even more to life.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: This award-winning novel deeply connects the reader to the character (a gay Irish man) through decades of life and times and rich dialogue. It’s impossible not to feel like you’ve walked a mile with him by the end.
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano: This family saga is all about themes and character choices over decades of time, so it leaves the reader with an absolutely massive amount of plot points to think about and yearn to discuss.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller: The memoir of the Stanford sexual assault victim is brutally honest and direct, challenging every preconceived notion you had about sexual assault and/or making you think more deeply about an already difficult topic. It’s simply necessary to pause and process it after reading it.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave: This unputdownable book centers on a woman who feels uprooted when her husband intentionally goes missing and she’s left to uncover all the things she never knew about him. I just kept thinking, “What would I do? How would I feel?” This relatability drove me to the author’s playlist, which I listened to on end until I could finally think clearly again.
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo: This story of love lost made me sob ugly tears, so I was quite literally unable to move forward from the ending.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: This first novel in a series that begins in the 1950s in the slums of Naples, Italy, follows the “cat and mouse” friendship of two young girls over decades of time. Besides being exceptionally well-written, the volatile, back-and-forth nature of their relationship, and the involvement of the entire community in their lives, draws the reader completely into their world. I read all four books right in a row and felt real emotions (like anger) about the characters’ actions at times.
Normal People by Sally Rooney: Like the above, this book involves a highly emotional relationship that’s always either completely on or completely off over several years. The multi-dimensional characters do things you don’t always like, which brings the reader’s emotions to the forefront. I’ve even heard readers say they’ll “never get over” what they did to each other.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson: This celebrity memoir is extremely revealing, so it feels very personal, and it’s written like a friend speaking to another friend about their juiciest secrets over coffee. So, when you finish this book, you really do feel like you lost something meaningful.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: I had always thought this would be your run-of-the-mill “teenage angst” story, so when I read it and found it to be about so much more (including unspoken trauma and healing), I had to binge the movie and write as much as I could about both of them, as fast as possible, in order to work through my thoughts and feelings.
Verity by Colleen Hoover: This bestselling thriller is unputdownable, so you can be quickly pulled into the world of it and pushed back out of it in a single sitting (as I was), which is jarring in and of itself. But, it’s also the darkest and most disturbing thriller I’ve read, so it can definitely require you to take some time to process your shock as well.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This is the bestselling, award-winning memoir of a young doctor who is dying, published after his death. So, there’s a very real feeling of grief that comes with reading it. It’s also told very philosophically, so it leaves the reader with really deep questions to ponder.
Book Hangover Cure
Wondering what to do when you have a book hangover?
Now that you know what a book hangover is and what types of books can cause one, let’s talk about how to get over a book hangover. Below are all the best ways of coping with a book hangover from my personal experience.
Take a break from reading
Journal or discuss it
Pair it with art or lifestyle
Engage in self-care
Read something very similar
Read something totally different
First, I think one thing that helps cure a book hangover is to be mindful of it and grateful for it. It’s a sign that you feel deeply about a book, and that’s a beautiful thing! It’s a blessing and an honor to experience such strong emotions about art.
In your lifetime, you’ll likely read books that utterly bore you, books you wholeheartedly disagree with, books that feel like a chore, and so forth. So, EMBRACE the feelings created by the ones you love.
Bask in the shock, wonder, connection, and other BIG feelings that are part and parcel of a book hangover. These types of books tend to make us better people and, furthermore, if it wasn’t for these books, things like in-person Harry Potter experiences may not exist to this date.
Take a break from reading.
Sometimes, we all just need a little “time out.” Like a child or pet, simply pausing can help reel those strong emotions back in.
If you’re feeling like you can’t pick up another book, then guess what?! You don’t have to do it.
I know a lot of readers put pressure on themselves, so I think it’s also important to note your break can be as short or as long as feels right for you. Unless it’s required reading, no one’s keeping score.
Journal or discuss it.
Hands down, the number one way I have cured my book hangovers has been by writing about them. It’s exactly how and why I started this blog and, generally, how I personally process thoughts and emotions in real life.
I had found myself distracted by swirling thoughts about the books I had read, so I started writing reviews and found that doing so enabled me to feel like I had processed it fully and could “close the chapter” on it and move forward.
Since books can be learning mechanisms, they often leave you with questions. I have also found that researching things like what a place really looks like, what something meant, or whether a story was true (and more about it), has also helped me satisfy my knowledge craving and yearn to start something new again.
Pair it with art or lifestyle.
Another one of my favorite things to do when I really love a book is to pair it with related lifestyle. The most obvious one is a film adaptation, but I have also enjoyed things like inspired playlists, aesthetic videos, recipes, travel, and more! Eventually, the itch feels scratched.
Engage in self-care.
As mentioned, a book hangover can, in some ways, mimic grief and other difficult feelings. So, the same type of self-care in which you would engage in those circumstances can help you here too.
I enjoy things like taking a bath and doing yoga. Perhaps you feel restored spending time outside, visiting with someone you love, baking, creating art, or taking a nap.
Whatever it is, you may find yourself feeling better when you do.
Read something very similar or very different.
Often, when you have a book hangover, it can be hard to figure out what to read next. I have found that I (and readers generally) tend to gravitate towards something that’s either very similar to the book you just finished (which can help you stay in the same feeling) or totally opposite (which can snap you out of the same feeling).
So, it can help to identify the emotion you are feeling and to ask yourself whether you want to feel the same or different, then pick a book that matches your answer.
For example, if you loved indulging in rich literary prose, an easy breezy beach read may leave you feeling empty. But if the atrocities of a historical fiction narrative based on real life left you shocked and disturbed, that same beach read may help you escape to a lighter world and take a breather.
Now you know exactly how to get over a book you read that left you feeling hungover.
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