Sundays In: Ennui

Something like the flu pummeled me recently. We enjoy talking about the books we devour, the books we couldn’t put down; everyone enjoys talking about books that excite them. What they don’t tell you about is the ennui.

Around the internet, there’s a term for it: book hangover. That break-up feeling you get after finishing a really great book. A sadness tinged with the deep satisfaction of knowing you are known, if only by an author across the country or some historical figure. A sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that prevent you from leaping into another book too quickly. Nostalgia.

But that’s not quite right either, is it? Hangover implies that with some biscuits and gravy and Gatorade you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

No, what I’ve been feeling is like that, only more so. I’ll get twenty, thirty, a hundred pages into a book and my interest will wane. It’s less a hangover and more a seven-year-itch I feel when I’m not halfway through a new novel and another, newer, presumably more exciting book comes along. I’d list the books I’ve stepped out on if it weren’t so long, a trail of broken spines, bent face-down on my bed and nightstand and bookshelf and floor, ever hopeful I might return to them.

What’s worse, is I fear even the next book won’t satisfy me and I’ll be searching for the perfect read forever. Eventually I despair altogether and lose interest in reading altogether.

Okay. I’m a drama queen, but I never said this column wouldn’t at times be overly sentimental.

In fact, sentimentality is what brings me back around when I feel like this. Roughly once every year or two, I experience the dry spell, the seven year itch, the book equivalent to a frat house, rush week, keg binge hangover. I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t always know where it goes, but this time I’m finding that circling back around just might prove worthwhile.

The problem started months ago, possibly as I reached the halfway point in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita. Suddenly it was spring release time in the bookstore, and I was curious about I Am An Executioner, a debut story collection by Rajesh Parameswaran. Then, of course Alison Bechdel released her follow up to Fun Home, Are You My Mother? The next thing I knew, novels and memoirs were scattered amongst essay collections and poetry, in my cubby at work and all over my house, half read and abandoned.

Now we’re coming into fall. Michael Chabon has a new novel out this week (Tues 9/11). Zadie Smith released one last week. But you know what? This week I went back to 1930’s Moscow to resolve some unfinished business wherein an enormous black cat and mysterious magician inflict hilarious Satanic attacks on the poor, unwitting Muscovites.

And you know, I can’t remember why I put it down. The book is comic genius.

My itch, my hangover, is subsiding as I consider which books over the last year that I’ve started and stopped that I wish I’d finished. The Master & Margarita sprang to the top of that list. I hope to finish it before Tuesday, because Telegraph Avenue has my name on it. But until then, it’ll just be me and Bulgakov rekindling a Faustian flame over a convivial glass of vodka.

“Sundays In” is a new bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.


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