Even though the number of pages in a book dwindles as I read, and the inevitable can be foretold, I find it quite impossible to prepare myself. I just can’t seem to accept that the world I have been introduced to; have grown familiar with; has let me experience a different life, is about to end. It isn’t until I have read the final sentence that it hits me: there is no next page; there won’t be any new adventures, mishaps or arguments. (Series excluded, of course.)
Instead, I’m left with mixed feelings. It’s incredible to have read a book that could swallow me up, that could send me on a holiday without as much leaving my own home. Yet at the same time, there’s always the undeniable feeling of having lost something precious, something that cannot be regained by just re-reading the book.
The listless feeling I’m left with is also known as a book hangover. (I was really happy that the restlessness I experience isn’t all that strange.)
Like the common hangover, the book hangover can result in physical discomforts such as feeling exhausted, having a nagging headache, and having a strong desire to stay in bed all day, especially after pulling an all-nighter. Luckily, it doesn’t involve spending time hanging over a toilet.
Of course, binge-reading doesn’t necessarily have to take place during the night. And it doesn’t necessarily have to mean finishing a book. But even after reading for several hours during the day and only getting halfway through a book, I usually end up disillusioned when I get back into my everyday life. (Not to mention what happens when I do finish a book.) Therefore, I avoid reading too much in a single-go as much as I can. And to do this, I try to keep to these guidelines:
- No reading at night. I know I don’t have the discipline to put down a book and go to sleep;
- Have other obligations that need to be done, like grocery shopping or going to the gym (I know, it’s odd but I do have the discipline to do this);
- Stop reading when there isn’t much going on. It’s dull and often means stopping halfway in a chapter, which isn’t ideal, but it works best.
The Master Hangover
The worst hangover I still remember was when I read the fifth book of the Harry Potter series. By that time, I was experienced enough to know that the aftermath of finishing a book had its side effects. I was also aware that reading too much wasn’t going to make it any easier to put a book down, and that reading up to the point I had to go to bed was best to avoid.
Unfortunately, that day I combined them all. To be honest, I’m still surprised I didn’t end up in some sort of book coma. I began reading the moment I had the chance. I was probably annoyed whenever I was disturbed to something trivial, such as having supper. (I must have been a royal pain as a teenager. The wWorse thing is, I’m still annoyed when I have to stop reading due to other obligations.) Somehow, during the night, my common sense managed to convince me to stop reading.
But the damage was already inflicted. I had passed the point of no return hours earlier, and I hadn’t realised.
Like an addict, I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen. Thus, after spending about two hours turning and sighing in bed, I switched on a torch (still under the impression my parents wouldn’t know. I have to admit, I’ve been under that impression for a very, very long time) and continued reading.
I remember what a morning after feels like: waking up far too early; sleep deprived; dry throat; and an undefined taste when swallowing. And then there are the mental side effects, an empty feeling – the feeling of being robbed of something important – and guilt. Guilt of not having had a decent wink of sleep, and guilt of having read a book that could have given me days of reading pleasure.
Like most hangovers, it cured me for a while. Then two years ago I made the mistake again. I had lost my voice entirely, that combined with a sore throat. During my recovery, I read Murakami’s 1Q84. I forced myself to take breaks, but in the end I read most of the day.
Ultimately, there will always be this moment of emptiness having finished a book. I have come to accept that as part of the process.