Book Hangover

This state of mind makes me think there must be something to the idea that there are imperceptible veils between worlds that prevent certain kinds of Creatures, Spirits, and Sundry from completely inhabiting one universe or another – veils that leave you drifting, not unpleasantly, just above the surface of your proper world, before allowing you to emerge completely from the novel you have just put down.

Good writing does that, good books – no, good stories – in particular.  The words sweep you off your conscious feet, twitch aside the veils, and deposit you firmly In The Story.  There’s a reason some fanfictions are labeled AU for Alternate Universe (I’m a child of the Internet/Tumblr.  Sorry.) – wherever your physical body may be, your essence, if the writer does their job, is far away and unreachable.

It may not seem like it.  Family members, roommates, concerned colleagues can all reach out and tap your shoulder, jolting you from The Story to ask you something, but sudden as the tug was, you’re not really back.  The Story is still hovering, hazing a more current reality.  You submerge yourself again as quickly as you can.

But oh.  When you finish the book.

When you finish the book you float for a while.  You drift.  Neither your own world nor the novel’s can quite pull you down to the ground again so you’re nudged this way and that by memories of both – on the one hand you have chores to do, but on the other you have a character death to deal with.  There’s a plot twist you still haven’t quite processed, and a meal to eat, but neither has any weight because you’re still somewhere between the veils, uncertain as to the anchor for your perceptions.

It takes a bit to come back down to earth.

The longest time I spent in that In Between Space was after devouring The Fault in Our Stars in one day, huddled in my lower bunk in my freshman dorm room, barely speaking to either of my roommates and only stopping for one meal.  The Engineer and I had only been dating for two months at that point, so he hadn’t yet experienced my Book Hangover State.  To his credit, he took my silent, somewhat somber expression in stride, only occasionally squeezing my hand for reassurance that I was okay.

I know how it looks to outsiders, to non-readers – I must be angry, or upset, or at least annoyed about something.  I must not be feeling social, or, when I tell them a book did this to me, it must have had a terrible, terrible, ending.  But that’s not the point.  The point is feeling my way back from The Story I’ve been immersed in for the past several hours, and reconciling it with my own reality.


to experience with joy; to take pleasure in

For someone whose brain rarely shuts up, I have a tough time with mindfulness.  The concept of being present, of taking in each thing as it comes instead of constantly planning and worrying, makes plenty of sense when I look at it objectively.  Executing the practice, on the other hand…

Sometimes it seems as though there’s too much space in my mind devoted to doubts, worries, rants, complaints, and failures.  My memories love to dredge up classic reruns of my most embarrassing moments, so much so that I’ll be squirming in my seat at the thought of something that happened years ago.  I may not be the best at this “adult” thing, but I feel like blurting out something awkward in 5th grade shouldn’t still bother me so much.  (Then again, if any of you have found a way to truly get over your middle school embarrassments, for the love of all that is good in this world, TELL ME YOUR WAYS.)

Some people call this “negative self-talk.”  These same people tell me of something called “self-compassion,” which is, again, a concept that sounds grand but is tricky to implement.  My thoughts have worn ruts of worry in my synapses.  I don’t have the time, it seems, to stop and breathe.

That’s why I’ve been thinking about the word “enjoy” lately.  It caught me while I was rereading Madeleine L’Engle’s excellent memoir A Circle of Quiet, where she spends several early chapters discussing the concept of joy.  She talks about existing, about resting, in that joy she feels in a simple moment – and she talks, too, about how rare it is for her to quiet herself enough to do that.  It comforts me that I am not the only one who has difficulty simply being.

The word “enjoy” originally came from Middle English for “to make joyful,” or Old French for “to give joy to.”  Joy, it seems to me, is a much more serious business than mere contentment or happiness.  “Happy” has something of a giddiness to it.  “Joy” has weight.  It leaves an imprint.  But that mark, that gentle, comforting weight like a hand on our shoulder, only comes when we let ourselves “enjoy,” when we let ourselves exist in the moment.  In joy.

So I’ve been trying to pay attention to the joyful moments, to the little things that allow me to exist “in joy” for a second or two, and to rest, rather than squirm, in the unusual quiet of my brain.

I started off easy – it’s all too natural for me to enjoy the first sip of coffee in the morning, or a well-written sentence that makes me close the book and stare off into space for a moment to absorb the craft of the words, or a monarch butterfly flashing across my path, or a fuzzy puppy rolling over and begging to be petted.

But it’s other things too.  It’s realizing that it doesn’t bother me to eat lunch alone in a strange town because I know I’m here for an internship that provides me with work I truly love doing.  It’s one-word texts from the Engineer.  It’s establishing witty rapport almost immediately with my new coworkers.  And it’s stepping outside the trailer in the evening and letting comfort seep down from a starry dome, even though it’s cold, even though I should go to sleep, because it feels good just to be – just to exist in joy.

Now I’m curious – what do you enjoy?

Libraries I Have Known

The Southern Belle was dubious when I strode toward the checkout station with a baker’s dozen of books, most of them hardcover, in my arms. She added her own modest three novels to the stack, then proposed using the plastic bags provided by the library to transport our literary loot out to my car.

I scoffed.

“Nearly all of these are hardcover – they’ll tear holes right through those bags,” I told her, starting to gather the scanned books back into my arms.  The Southern Belle sighed, and because she is a fabulous friend, grabbed half the stack for herself so I didn’t actually have to carry them all.  I would have, though.  I’ve done it before.


To me, a library trip is only successful when it results in such a large haul of reading material that I can’t quite open the front door when I get home.  I’ve developed this habit from childhood; ever since I got my first library card in kindergarten, I would toddle up to the counter with a stack of books tucked under my chin, my fingers barely gripping the bottom of the pile as I propped it against my torso.  The librarians would lean down and peer at me as I tried to shove my heap up and over the counter for them to scan.  “Are you really going to read all those?” they would ask, half to me, half to my mother, who stood by nodding.

“Oh yes, she will,” my mother said.

That was in the first library I knew, the brick one with the lane of trees out front and Reading Riley, the brass turtle, on his pedestal just outside the door.  That was the library where, seized by one of those fevered obsessions that strikes third-graders, I checked out nearly every book available on lemurs and wrote a report.  For fun.  During the summer.

That library is gone now, torn down and the spot where it stood filled in with mountains of dirt.  The city promised a new library in that same spot, a bigger, better one.  A year, two at the most, they said.

It took five.

During those five years, the temporary library was crammed into a space that used to house an auto parts store.  Many of the books, including some of my favorites, were now in storage elsewhere.  I had to request a lot of things from other branches.  The librarians who had watched me grow up shook their heads whenever I asked about a beloved volume.  Probably in a box somewhere, they said.

Now we have a new library, with floor to ceiling windows and self checkout stations and conference rooms for readings and signings and book clubs.  There’s a job search area with resources for unemployed people, a teen area, a kids area.

I think the kids section might be the only one without computers.

Of course I miss the library of my childhood, the one with brick walls and a hushed atmosphere and a counter that allowed me to get to know the people who worked there.  But at school, what I’m really homesick for are those teetering, heavy stacks of pleasure and leisure reading.  Spring break means getting to pile books up to my chin, crash through the door, settle in, and devour half the stack in one afternoon.  And that, to me, is home.