Entries Tagged as 'literature'

The Book Hangover

April 29, 2014

You might have heard about it.

I had always felt that it was an exaggeration, as each time I finish a book, I happily move on to the next one. A few weeks ago, however, when I finished reading a 900-pages book, I experienced profound sadness. And I almost felt ashamed of it. As if the world isn’t plagued with enough issues, there is me bemoaning the fact that there were not enough pages in my book. It is not as if the book was a masterpiece or the best thing I had ever read, but I found glimpses of truth in it and, quickly after finishing it, I found myself thinking about it while getting coffee or carrying my groceries. I even animatedly talked to friends about one of the characters. Regularly.

Right?! Illustration by Nicola O'Byrne for the book Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite (Author Nick Bromley)

Right?! Illustration by Nicola O’Byrne for the book Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite, 2013 (Author Nick Bromley)

Although at first I felt uncomfortable about my discomfort, my initial feelings of guilt are gone. Because 900 pages are sort of a big commitment. And I showed up for each of those pages. I became attached, involved, invested. And so much life has happened as I turned those leafs.

So I decided to address the issue and, as every responsible person would do, I sought professional help for my book hangover situation. That means that I googled it. And I actually got some really good suggestions:

‘Start a new book’  I did, but I found myself wondering about the fate of the characters of the old book during the first pages of the new book, so that did not work out very well. And then I was really judgmental and unfair with the new book: ‘That book’s character would never do this and that writer would never use such weak metaphors.’ And that was not true. But I did abandon it after the first pages.

‘Re-read the book’ This advice I did not even bother to follow because everyone knows that nothing is as good the second time around.

‘Discuss the book with friends’ The book was not exactly a new title, and it was 900 pages long so, practically speaking, I could not get a friend to read it overnight. But I found that speaking about books in general with people who love reading and treat fictional characters as real individuals lifts me up.

So I did not find a quick fix for my book hangover and, although I am an unrepentant runaway, addicted to the dope of literary escapism, it took a while until I embarked on a new reading journey. I just paused to experience the temporary nature of things. Of happiness, of safety. Of fictional universes you can no longer inhabit. And I am an advocate for a lot of causes around difficult issues which impact my country, but when a book you really connected with ends-that’s hard too. Because it involves loss.

And that’s life for you. Losing something in order not to feel lost ourselves.




A healing potion of words

January 27, 2014

Have you ever read until you felt better? I certainly have. Many times.

Sometimes my sadness is too big that spoken words don’t help me get it all out right. But words in books abandon the page and slip cunningly into the precise areas I’ve denied all access, slowly starting to mend the broken pieces and putting things into place.

And friends are the best, but a piece of literature will never tell you ‘I know how you feel’. Because nobody knows how you feel. Instead, a book becomes a diary where you project all of what you are going through onto its pages. It becomes uniquely personal in a way that nothing else, so publicly available, will. A book is neither condescending, nor invasive; a book doesn’t abandon you: it’s there, patiently witnessing your trauma and heartbreak. And that’s good, because a corny self-help quote is the last thing you need. And that’s great, because what didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger. At all.

If you have ever been touched by a book, you often go back to the shelf, picking that particular book up, and read parts of it over and over again to yourself, as its words speak to you in a way everyday language can’t. While everyday words, such as sad, helpless or broken seem to subtract from the feeling and strip down the experience, the symbolic significance of stories and their imagery help us deal with difficult emotions at a time where everything is experienced in top volume. Good literature speaks respectfully to us about a thing we know deeply, but are at a loss for words to utter.

Sounds familiar?  The Sad Book is a picturebook which chronicles Michael Rosen's grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 19. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, this beautiful book does not pretend that pain is easy to bear.

The Sad Book is a picturebook which chronicles Michael Rosen’s grief at the death of his son, Eddie, from meningitis at the age of 19. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, this beautiful book does not pretend that pain is easy to bear. The Sad Book, 2004

Through these poignant images, Oliver Jeffers explores the themes of love and loss

Through these poignant images, Oliver Jeffers explores the themes of love and loss. Heart and the Bottle, 2009

Books allow you to stay with your sadness. ‘Pain demands to be felt’, John Green writes. And in this ‘gotta be happy, gotta have it all figured out’ society, it is relieving to be granted moments when it’s okay to be unhappy, and feel that others have been there too. Life is hard sometimes, you know? Because you lose people you didn’t want to lose, and you often dream and work and try your best and you don’t succeed, and then there are those times when you just want to love and be loved and it is not easy. What you need in these moments is not a magic wand to make it all okay. You need to experience it, you need literature, which will offer you powerful coping tools: effective metaphors, poignant stories, honest images which will support you to deal with your feelings, learn from it and grow… It helps.

Does any of these seem familiar to you? Do you believe in the healing power of words? What books have helped you deal with a difficult period in your life? Share your experience in the comments below. I’d love to know.



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