The Golden Hare Books Agony Aunt answers YOUR reading and writing questions…
Alex, aka @ahwingate, asks:
“My question (and the struggle is real) is: how do you get over a book hangover? After I’ve read a book I really enjoy I struggle to get into the next one. It’s bigtime mopesville. And then I fall in love with that book and the cycle starts all over again…”
Ah, the good old book hangover. We’ve all been there: so engrossed in a book that we didn’t want it to end, but like all good things, it had to. The sort of book that follows us around for weeks afterward, convincing us that it was the pinnacle of our reading experience and we’ll never find another one like it. It’s a hard come-down. I’ve been there myself: most recently, it was Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which gave me perhaps the most brutal book hangover I’ve ever known. (It’s no surprise to me that in the wake of this novel’s publication, there were calls for real-life support groups to help readers deal with losing those fictional characters from their lives: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/20/a-little-life-why-everyone-should-read-this-modern-day-classic)
Everyone has their own go-to hangover cures, but let me share a few of mine with you:
Hair of the dog
We all know that sometimes, when you’re in withdrawal, the quickest remedy is simply more of what ails you. If you’re desperate for more of a book that’s gone and ended on you, well… why not re-read it? I’ve done this with several books that gripped me: I read Janet Fitch’s White Oleander three times in a row. After I finished Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, I had to read it again just to make sure I’d spotted all the clues (I hadn’t: the second read was even better than the first). This cure isn’t just for fiction, either. I loved Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 so much that I had to start it all over again, too. And certain poetry collections get me that way as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and re-read and re-re-read Kim Addonizio’s Tell Me or Mary Oliver’s The West Wind.
We live in an era of end-of-year book lists, in which folk brag on social media about how this year they’ve read 200 novels; 250 poetry collections; a book a day; they don’t sleep, they just read, they’ve read 500 novels in a year beat that etc, etc. It’s a pretty terrible trend that piles pressure on slower readers, those with barriers to reading (e.g. dyslexia), or those who struggle with literacy. Reading isn’t a race… in fact, once upon a time I believe it was considered a relaxing activity! What I’m saying is: you don’t need to rush out and find something else to read right away. If you just finished a book that blew your mind or broke your heart, it’s absolutely fine to take some time and simply sit with that feeling. Personally, I love reflecting on a book’s revelations, even – or perhaps especially – after I’ve finished it. If you need a little time to mourn a much-loved book, it’s all good!
The fried breakfast
You know how stodgy comfort food just seems right when you’re hungover? There’s such a thing as a comfort book, too. If you’ve just finished a book that devastated you (like Holly Ringland’s The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart or Maggie Nelson’s Bluets did me), it’s totally fine to turn to a familiar favourite for solace. Your comfort book doesn’t need to have high nutritional value: it can be as trashy or sappy or silly as you like. When I’m looking for a comfort read, I return again and again to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which I loved as a kid. They’re all great, but Soul Music is especially daft and funny. Once you’ve lined your literary stomach, you’ll be ready to get back out there and find your next, newly-published cocktail of delights.
Sometimes, after a heavy spell of reading, you’re just too nauseous to start in on another big tome right away. This is where poetry – essentially the replenishing acai-berry-and-wheatgrass shot on the hangover-cure menu – comes into its own. Whether you opt for a slim single-poet collection or spoil yourself with a bumper-pack anthology, you’ll discover new reading delights without committing to another 300-page bender right away. If you like your chaser thick and treacly, I recommend Rebecca Tamas’ newly-published Witch, from Penned in the Margins. If you’re after more of a superfood cleanse, you need Amy Key’s Isn’t Forever, published by Bloodaxe. For those of you after an anthology to peruse, Nine Arches Press have got you covered with their 2017 anthology Stairs and Whispers: d/Deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.
Wishing you a clear head!
Caught up in a bookish conundrum? Stuck in a reading rut? Or maybe you’re a writer who needs a little one-to-one workshopping? You can send your reading or writing related queries to Claire by tweeting with the hashtag #MayIAskew; you can DM Claire on Twitter via @onenightstanzas, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with #MayIAskew in the subject line. If you’d like your letter to be anonymous, just let us know: pseudonyms of the “Bookish of Balerno” persuasion are very much welcomed!
Claire Askew is the Writer in Residence at Golden Hare Books. She is the author of the poetry collections The Mermaid and the Sailors (Red Squirrel Press, 2011) and This changes things (Bloodaxe, 2016); and the novels All The Hidden Truths (Hodder, 2018) and What You Pay For (forthcoming, Hodder, 2019). Claire has won a variety of awards for her work, including the Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and a Jessie Kesson Fellowship. She also works as Writer in Residence for the University of Edinburgh, and Schools Writer in Residence for the Edinburgh International Book Festival.