We’ve talked about the delicious fog that follows the completion of reading an utterly sublime romance, the kind that gives us a secret smile for days afterward, wondering what the characters are doing now, remembering favorite moments, and reveling in the warm fuzzies of a story well told. Then there’s the other kind. In the other kind of book hangover, the fuzzies are on our tongues, accompanied by pounding headaches, sensitivity to bright light, and possibly a slight unsteadiness on our feet as we stagger out of our reading chair, to put the source of said hangover back in its proper place. Be that back on the shelf, in a stack to trade, to sell online or return to the library, this reading experience is in our rearview mirror, and we need something to set things right.
What makes a particular book leave a bad taste in a reader’s mouth is as individual as what makes a great read, but that’s not our point this week. We’ve all had reads that didn’t quite hit the right note, and require some corrective action. Maybe the author’s voice isn’t a good fit for this particular reader. Maybe the reader tried reading a different subgenre (change can be good) and found it wasn’t what they’d hoped. Maybe a favorite author wasn’t at the top of their game, or a much-hyped book didn’t live up to its promises. Maybe there’s an error in something in which the reader had personal experience, and that throws the whole deal off its axis. Maybe the content, perhaps a plotline or character, touched a sore spot, and , no matter how deft the storytelling, the reader can’t let that slide. However it happened, there the reader is, left hanging. What should have been a pleasure trip turned out to be anything but, and the big question is, what next?
For some, nothing. Only time can heal that wound. This may be the time for movies, TV shows, or magazines. Maybe the bad juju has to wear off on its own. There’s no rushing this sort of thing, and all readers go through resting periods. All part of the process. So far, nobody has ever cited a book that was so horrific that it put them off reading forever, so odds are that there will be something that sparks the reader’s interest again, which does take away some of the sting.
Some readers do best with a hair of the dog. Pick up another book of exactly the same sort and get right back up on that metaphorical horse. Another book within the same genre, with the same plotline or character type, maybe by the same author, from the same vintage, or subgenre. If the hangover book was part of a series, they may forge ahead into the next one anyway, because, if there’s one good point to having this sort of reaction to a book, it’s that the bar is set low for whatever reading material follows. This may bring about a sort of reader bravado. Nothing can possibly have that same sort of effect again, and, even if it can, what are the odds of it happening twice in a row? So, the brave reader forges onward. Hopefully, the next book does do the trick, and helps them figure out exactly what element it was that didn’t work, leaving such books for others who can truly appreciate them. Worst case scenario, three in a row lets the reader know this sort of book is not for them, and they can happily move on to something that will have a more satisfying outcome.
Other readers need to flip the coin. If the book that didn’t work was light and fluffy, try something darker or more substantial. Gritty romantic suspense instead of romantic comedy, for example, or vice versa. Small town love didn’t pan out? Try a walk on the wild with a motorcycle club romance, or indulge in a bit of time travel with a historical or futuristic love story instead? Should-have-been-hot romance left you cold? Dip into the sweet stuff and see how that cleanses the palate.
Yet others take a different route and choose a third option. Maybe that means studying the hangover book itself and pinpointing the problem, perhaps reading up on the author or subject matter to learn more, and see if the additional information makes for a different experience upon a reread. Said reread may be immediate or come weeks, months, or even years later. Perhaps changing format could change the association the brain has with the unsatisfying read; if the hangover book was a paperback, try a hardcover or e-book. Read on a different device, maybe in a different location or time of day. If choosing what to read after an unsettling experience is a challenge, this could be time to let someone else do the selecting. Asking a friend what they’ve read and loved recently could open a whole new world, or draw the reader back into the fold and remind them why reading brings such pleasure, thus rekindling the reading flame.
So, dear readers, I turn it over to you. Have you ever had this sort of book hangover, where, for whatever reason, turning the final page leaves a bad taste in your mouth? How do you handle that? No need to share the titles of the books that didn’t work out -one reader’s trash is another’s treasure, after all- but sharing how one recuperates after a disappointing read can only help us all, because if it hasn’t happened yet, we have but to wait until it’s our turn. Thankfully, with romance as varied as it is, there’s always a new favorite within reach.