musings

Book Hangovers

I’ve been binge-watching Jen Campbell’s amazing YouTube/BookTube videos during the last few days and I came across one about Book Hangovers.

I can’t be the only one who has just discovered this term for this experience, can I? Either way, I’m glad I can finally put a ‘name’ on that feeling.

A Book Hangover is essentially that feeling of being unable to read (or at least properly get into) a new book because you just can’t stop thinking about the book you’ve just finished reading. Whether for good or for bad reasons, you just can’t let go of that book.

So I thought, to mix things up on the blog, while I’m slowly but surely working my way through Dracula, I’d write up about some of my Book Hangovers.

(I’m leaving out the Harry Potter series and duMaurier’s books, because as my favourites, I consider it cheeky to include them, and I talk a lot about them anyway).

It’s rather long, so I hope you enjoy it. Would love to hear about any books you’ve had similar experiences with!

So, here goes:

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White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

My book hangover for this amazing novel resulted in me making a colour-coded diagram of how the characters were connected. I had to make it clear in my head, because I couldn’t believe how intricately this plot was structured.

Connection and interaction is a significant ‘theme’ of White Teeth. Relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, friends; the relationships between people and places, specifically Britain’s relationship with people who were born in countries it once colonized.

It’s a book that is both vast in scope and intricate in depicting the minutiae of life. Just writing this has made me want to re-read it again.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I first encountered this book while studying my GCSE’s (10 years ago now!) and I’m still hung up on it. This was the book that really made me take note of how powerful language and stories can be. Structurally, I was awed by how the retrospective narrative shapes what we are told, and how we take in the story. The characters blew me away – for the first time, it felt like I could know any one of them, or be any one of them, even though the setting is very specific in space and time. Everything just felt so real -the emotions, the dialogue, the events.

That’s what’s stayed with me, and I read this at least once a year to go back to Maycomb and be with these characters again. I’m not going to lie, though: it’s heartbreaking that this book is becoming more relevant as time goes on, not just as a reminder of a past era, but as a reflection of the present. The recent debates surrounding it being taken off the curriculum for making people uncomfortable just prove how vital the novel still is, and how powerfully readers still connect with it.

A Room Of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

This might be an unpopular opinion but I find Woolf’s ‘nonfiction’ so much more accessible than her fiction. I know that a key aspect of modernism was to disrupt the reading experience, but I often find Woolf’s novels a chore to read. A Room of One’s Own, an extended essay, is a great mix of all that is spectacular about Woolf’s writing. I especially love the sense of movement that she creates – the literal movement through the university buildings and the ‘psychological movement’ through the history of women as writers and characters. It’s very ‘quotable’, and that’s partly why I found this book hard to let go of.

“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

One of the first novels I read at university, and still one that sticks in my mind. I listened to countless interviews and programs discussing it, read as much as I could of Hamid’s work, because I was simply bowled over by it. It’s not an especially long book, but it’s so rich with detail and power.

The story opens in Lahore. A Pakistani man, Changez, offers to help an American visitor find a good cup of tea. As they wait in the cafe, Changez begins to tell the stranger of his time living in the United States, and the effects of the 9/11 attacks on his life.

The way that suspense is built is just phenomenal, but more importantly, the ambiguity that characterises the entire book, and all of its characters, offers a stark reflection the assumptions we as readers make.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

If ever a book would be described as an emotional roller coaster, this would be a standout. Focussing on the lives of four friends living in New York, this tome of a book is magnificent. There are moments in this book that are so dark they took my breath away. Like a moth drawn to a flame, I read some of those scenes again immediately after, almost to make sure I hadn’t imagined them. I cried at so many different points, for scenes that were horrifying and ones that were heart warming. At the core, I’d say this book was about love. Not necessarily romance (although romantic relationships do feature), but about the deep connections that exist between people and alter the shape of their lives, for better or for worse.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

This is still my favourite read from this year. My full review can be found here, but to summarise, Eleanor is a delightfully quirky, frustrating, funny, but essentially lonely character trying to figure out the complicated chaos that is ‘life’. I got so emotionally invested in her journey that I was devastated when it ended, and couldn’t make any progress with my next read for about a week.

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Fragments, by Binjamin Wilkomirski (Bruno Dössekker)

This book has gained so much attention since its publication. From being heaped with praise and awards to being the focus of a scandal, the story of the book itself is as unforgettable as its content precisely because it concerns the Holocaust. Described as a recording of the writer’s fragmented recollections of his early childhood being imprisoned in two Nazi concentration camps, the ‘content’ of Fragments is as horrifying and traumatic as one could imagine. However, a few years after publication, a journalist discovered and exposed the writer’s fabrications, debunking the entire testimony. I’m sure many who have read this book share my confusion about what stays with them more: the detail with which the ‘memories’ are recalled, or the knowledge that he did not actually experience these things. His reasons for creating this account are still unclear (from what I can gather, the writer still insists his account is true), but what his book has done is draw attention to the power that such accounts possess over our access to history; how certain writers may utilise that power for their own ends; and the slippery nature of memories, truth, and autobiography.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

Gosh, is this book bleak. I mean, darker themes and atmospheres have created some of the most outstanding literature, but it’s just relentless for poor Tess. Being the studious teenager that I was, I couldn’t leave a book I needed for class unread, but I genuinely just wanted the novel to end because I could hardly take it. I tried to take sanctuary in the Harry Potter series, but even that was a struggle. Not sure why I’ve even kept this copy of it because it’s unlikely I’ll ever open it again.

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

I appreciate the importance of this book in terms of it being one of the first ‘novels’ written in English, but I found it pretty tedious. I like sentences, paragraphs and chapters, and Robinson Crusoe has few of any of them (because it was still an experimental form). It felt like I was reading some sentences for hours! I also found Crusoe’s attitude to and relationship to Friday to be cruel, however typical or ‘normal’ it may have been in the context of Defoe’s time.

Vera, by Elizabeth von Arnim

I only reviewed this last week so won’t go into too much detail, but I still can’t let go of how disappointed I was with it. The plot and the characters had all the basic elements to be decent, but it just fizzled out and the book became frustrating to read.

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It’s quite funny looking at that list that it’s older literature that I’ve generally found difficult to forget for challenging reasons. Perhaps it’s the styles, the disjuncture between eras of time or culture, or simply that I don’t like the stories, but those books were such difficult reads. There’s something about the more contemporary literature that I’ve read that I love – the challenging of assumptions, the experimenting with styles and genres, the intricacy of characterisation.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. Please let me know if there are any books that have stayed in your mind, for good or for bad reasons.

Have a lovely Friday, readers!!!

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