"Book Hangovers:" Why Books Impact You Long After You've Finished the Last Page... and What to Do With that Impact

why we get book hangovers + Motivation to Make Time for More Reading

Reading books is my number one way to relax. But what to do when you finish reading a book and you’re left with post-book depression? When I finished the last page and close the book, something happens inside me. I often need some time to work through the emotions and ideas stirred within me by the author. That processing time is called a “book hangover.” What about you? Have you ever felt like this?

I happened to stumble on an article on the Goodreads blog entitled, “13 Ways of Coping with a Book Hangover.” This idea of “book hangover” intrigued me. The author, Marie, describes one as finishing a book so good that you couldn't immediately start another.

The article went on to list 13 different things to do after finishing a good book. But I began to wonder what would give me that “book hangover” in the first place.

What about you? Why do books affect you like this?

 What to do when you finish reading a book and you get Post-Book Depression? Here are some book hangover cures. Image used with permission by  Canva .

What to do when you finish reading a book and you get Post-Book Depression? Here are some book hangover cures. Image used with permission by Canva.

Here are three reasons I can't immediately move on to the next book in my never-ending To Be Read pile:

1. Surprise Ending

Working backwards from a good book ending. Sometimes a surprise ending will lead me to wonder if I missed some clues earlier. Sometimes if I'm really broadsided, I'll wonder if the resolution was plausible. I'm usually taking time to work my way mentally back through the history of that story, searching for clues that may have led to it without my catching them.

2. Deep Theological or Philosophical Implications

Time for processing a deep idea. Sometimes an idea or a personal event in a story leaves me processing the emotions or philosophical ideas. Sometimes I need to journal through my thoughts, sometimes a review is enough, and sometimes I need to talk about how a book impacted me with my husband or sister.

  • Hangover book #1: Sometimes a concept will stick with me, requiring me to take some time to ponder the logic or the believable-ness of it. Like in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, the concept of traveling through space quickly by “tessering” absolutely fascinated me. That's the main idea I remembered long after I had forgotten even the characters 25 years later.

  • Hangover book #2: Sometimes a nonfiction book will trigger my empathy and make me feel what the main character felt. If they went through a particularly sad or challenging event, I imagine myself in it. It often takes me a while to process those feelings and wonder what I would have done or how I would have reacted or what I would have felt if it had been me. For example, in Tony Dungy's memoir, Quiet Strength, he talked about losing one of his sons to suicide. I had never known this about him. It rocked me. Even though I immediately started a lighter fiction novel, I couldn't focus on it because I was still dealing with the impact of determining to talk with my preteen son about the growing epidemic of suicide.

3. Characters Have Become Important to Me

Visiting an old friend. I've read several books so many times that the unchanging characters have become like friends to me. No matter how many times I revisit them, they're always there for me and they're always the same. Often, I'll take some time after finishing one of my favorites to just bask in the glow of familiarity and companionship.

  • Hangover book #3: When I first finished reading Anne's House of Dreams, #5 in the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, I fell asleep and dreamed of Anne in her first little house as a newlywed. She had become so real to me by then, that I dreamed of her everyday life.

  • Hangover book #4-9: One of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, is so beloved that most of her novels have been made into movies. Sometimes one way to get over a “book hangover” is to watch one (or more) of the film adaptions of that book. Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey are my favorites. It prolongs the enjoyment of the characters, like spending extra time with your best friend. (Here is the complete volume of her published works, which is what I have and re-read every year, or a more expensive boxed set.)

FYI, here are the a few of the ways listed in the article that I cope with this “book hangover”:

1. I rarely do this, but sometimes I just pick the book up again and experience the entire package again.

2. I usually pick up a lighter read. Sometimes switching genres helps, though I don't read many different genres, so this doesn't always work. Many times I will switch to a Netflix series or one of my favorite movies.

3. I immediately write my review, which serves to help me process what impacted me so much.

4. Sometimes I will actually take a break from reading, not starting another book for several days, just ruminating and pondering what impacted me and why.

(never have done #5, #6, or #7)

8. I may reread my favorite parts or watch the movie made from the book.

(never have done #9 or #10)

11. I look for something else written by the same author..

12. After one of these impacting books, I rarely go on to another new book. I often will reread an old favorite to reorient myself.

(definitely never have done #13)

Adding my own that didn't make their list, (though inspired by 7):

14. Sometimes I will dream or imagine what might have happened after the ending. I don't often do this, but I have written a few of these down as my own “fan fiction” to supplement the story from my perspective.

15. I sometimes want to find out more about the story or the writing, so I will research for behind-the-scenes material about the character, the setting, or more about the author.

Conclusion: Some books just hit us harder than others, some in a good way and some not so good. I think it's important to process through what impacted us and why it hit us hard. Whether a surprise ending, a deep philosophical concept, or becoming friends with the characters, books have the power to change us. Allow only the good influences to impact our emotions and ideas, and then learn from them.

What do you do when you have a “book hangover”?