I give to thee my heart in exchange for this tale of Elsewhere, but pray, you do not break it.
Tick tock tick tock, the clock’s hands creep forward, but you pay it no mind, even when your state commands you to skip or replay an hour like in some alternate science-fiction reality. The sky alights in fiery oranges as the sun sets before the moon rises and casts its pearlescent shadows in the trees, and yet you make no move, your eyes gradually adjusting. Dogs barking the day’s farewell swallowed by the crickets’ lullaby eventually fade to silence before the crescendo of birds sirening in the new morning sun, but what you hear are the voices from somewhere else. Elsewhere, your mind is consumed.
You have transported your soul into the soft, bitter-ink-smelling pages of a book resting warmly, heavily in your hands. You have devoted your life—well, at least a night’s worth of ten hours—to this story and these characters and now you are to read the last page. Holding your breath, like so often the protagonist does before slaying the mental and physical dragons, you turn the page, the crinkling noise jarring, and you read. You gasp! You close the back cover and hold it tightly, debating whether to throw it or frame it in fairy lights.
You want to jump, dance, scream how your psyche has been demolished and rebuilt through this book. Alas, it is four a.m. and your roommates would not appreciate being awoken in such an alarming way. You remember that time you screamed when killing a beetle and your roommate ran out with a baseball bat thinking an intruder attacked. Now, you have not a clue on how to express all these feelings an author invoked within you from mere letters.
Exasperated, and with a barely repressed squeal, you flop back on your bed. You have a pile of books, but they fill you with a daunting pit of dread. What if none of them compare to the one you finished? What if they are so disappointing you slope into a book depression where you never want to read a single book ever again? What if you try reading the next book by the same author, and your faith in that author shatters?
For this, this is your “Book Hangover,” as they say—that moment stretched into weeks when you realize nothing will ever compare to this one book and the emotions and thoughts it provoked within you, and you wish you could continue living in this fantasy.
“To be or not to be…” plagued by these cataclysmic and transcendent emotions fraught by books?
Epic Reads posted a public service announcement page devoted to the Book Hangover. The site defines this book hangover phenomenon as a “condition in which attachment to a book or series that has ended causing the reader traumatic emotional distress.” When a person exhibits a book hangover, that person’s mind still lives within the book’s world. As such, he can neither start a new book nor function at work/school. This condition affects anyone at any time. It lasts for two weeks, or until the reader discovers a superior book.
In aspiring to prevent another victim of this affliction, Epic Reads warns of the signs. Those warnings being “a hollow, empty feeling in the chest…crying in minimal or excessive quantities; irrational anger at people who don’t understand your pain… [and] repeatedly calling out the names of characters from the book in question.”
A book hangover can be understood as a reader struggling through individual but entangled stages. The early warning signs sees a reader obsessively reading, even so much as thinking about reading. A reader will stay up past his bedtime and ruin his circadian rhythm to finish those last chapters. Then, if no action is taken, the first stage begins—the stage of euphoria and satisfaction—right after the reader has finished the book. The reader feels proud of the characters’ evolution and reminiscences about the details leading to the “perfect ending.”
It is the second stage when sadness clouds that happiness, for he has no more left to read. This turns into the third stage of an existential crisis as the reader fears how he could ever possibly move on with his life as if he had not had a transcendental experience. He tries to remember life before, but it is foggy and distant. The reader forces himself onward through the fourth stage of disillusionment when he believes no other book will be as earthshattering and enriching. All books are therein unappealing, which is another type of sadness in of its self.
Finally, after this grueling and soul-wrenching process, the reader accepts in the fifth stage that he feels grief over finishing the book and must return to the real world, reluctantly, as the mind slowly stops replaying every scene. Then, suddenly, crossing to the sixth stage, the reader feels ready, excited even, to start a new book. He jumps head-first down the rabbit hole, without having learned his lesson. Although this sixth stage marks the last one in the Book Hangover, it also brings forth the beginning of a new cycle through the stages.
While social media, memes, and merchandise glorify and underestimate the Book Hangover, phycologists study how books affect readers’ psyches. Maja Djikic, Ph.D., Professor at the Rotman School of Management, explained readers experience sadness at the conclusion of a book, because, to them, they lost something valued and treasured.
The end of a book signals the end of its storyline, world, and characters that the readers viscerally connected with. For a time, readers perceived this world and these characters as real and as having lived in their minds. But when the last page is flipped, readers no longer have those companions. In a way, the world and its characters died, forever to remain stagnant as described on the last page. This connection in part is due to the level of empathy in a reader.
The more empathetic a reader is, the more likely he is to become attached to a character and then experience a painful separation from that character. Dr. Djikic explained readers are subject to lingering thoughts and emotions after finishing a book also because of how they resonate with the central issues in the book. As Dr. Djikic said, those issues become “very active inside one’s psyche; therefore, the reader wishes for more time to reflect and unravel whatever complexities still plague them.”
This lingering hangover is not inherently bad. Beyond the bursts of sadness over loss, Dr. Djikic believes that a longer-lasting book hangover leads to personal growth. She said, “Fiction reading can be a powerful dysregulator of identity, allowing readers to ‘exit’ themselves, and be in a state that is more receptive to personal change or transformation.”
“Please, sir, can I have some more…” books?
With the growth and prevalence of the Book Hangover phenomenon, specific communities have risen to help one another accept, understand, and grow beyond the hangover. In these communities, readers alike talk with both positivism and criticism about the characters, themes, interpretations, and effects on their psyche and daily lives. They give advice on how to move forward and what to read next. These communities might be found within a school or online forum, such as GoodReads.
Other recovery tips include reading the author’s social media posts, signing up for author emails, embarking upon a new hobby, and watching people to understand their stories.
Epic Reads’ treatment prescribes searching for GIFs that express emotions, divulging lamentations over Twitter, or finding a new book to read, but to that, Epic Reads wishes you good luck. Or, for a more physical approach, they recommend doing ten whole book shimmy repetitions.
Epic Read’s public service announcement would be incomplete without their disclaimer of remedies, however: “Readers are yet to discover a proven cure for this condition. …the only known methods with evidence of negating this condition are the passage of time and a new book or series.
While these tips focus on moving forward, others focus on furthering book hangovers and embracing “fandoms.” Readers may read or write “fanfiction,” works written based upon the original book but not by the original author.
Author E L James’s Fifty Shades trilogy first started as fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. James is not the only acclaimed author who started her prized book series as an alteration on different authors’ books. Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones started as various fanfiction compilations about Harry Potter, but FanFiction.net deleted them based on plagiarism reports. Other authors having dabbled in fanfiction include Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Orson Scott Card, and Claudia Gray.
While writing might be one reader’s way to express devotion to a book and contribute to a fandom, another reader might prefer to film a skit, draw a character, or design objects in continuing book hangovers. Sometimes artists sell their work to book-box subscription companies or to the public through online retail websites. Fans trade with one another for certain exclusive “unicorn” items or pay a larger monetary price after those items sold out elsewhere.
Alas! With a plethora of tools and techniques at one’s disposal, curing a book hangover should be something readers look forward to and can accomplish quickly rather than dread and weep over for weeks. However, a caveat must be raised as to these home remedies. Perhaps, included in disclaimers should be a little piece of legislation titled the “Copyright Act.”
“I’m a good girl, I am!” I ain’t violating; before I posted, I disclaimed my name, I did.
The Copyright Act of 1976, found within the United States Code’s Title 17, grants protection to certain works of art, including novels and films, along with ownership rights of those works. Under section 106, these six exclusive ownership rights include producing copies, distributing copies, displaying publicly, performing, and preparing derivative works of the copyrighted work.
While the first five rights read as self-explanatory, the last might meet some confusion as to what “derivative” means for purposes of copyrighted works. According to section 101, a derivative work is “a work based upon one or more preexisting works…where a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” In further explanation, it is a “work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship.” As a derivative work is classified as a work, it can take any form the Copyright Act seeks to protect.
For purposes of fans creating art, objects, and stories based on the original author’s copyrighted work, these fans create derivative works, which places them in the position of violating the Copyright Act’s grant of exclusive ownership rights. Despite readers wanting to show their support, embrace their creativity, and encourage a fandom, they have infringed upon the copyrighted work. They have encroached upon that author’s rights as the original owner.
As the original owners, authors have additional rights, under section 106A, of attribution and integrity. An owner can prevent the use of his name with work he did not create and prevent the destruction or modification of his work. An owner can also sue for copyright infringement. Additionally, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act subjects online infringing works to deletion.
Some infringing fans call upon the shield of Fair Use under section 107. In the story’s introduction or the product’s description, fans write, “I do not own the story, characters, or world,” with the possible exceptions they added additional elements of their own imagination. However, these disclaimers as to whom the original owners and authors are do not circumvent the Copyright Act through Fair Use.
Section 107 has a tighter scope than what these hopeful fans believe it to be. The Act specifically narrows when someone can claim Fair Use of a copyrighted work without being in violation for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…, scholarship, or research.” Due to this, the act considers expressing one’s devotion to a novel by creating derivative works not as fair use but as infringement. In contrast, a defense of parody and satire might work if fans truly used the infringing work as such and not as a tribute to the original. In addition, they should always check local governmental laws and rules of the original owner, as they may vary and change.
While fans cannot shield their own works from being Fair Use, they may have alternative defenses if they take additional steps. Fans can limit their creations to only works based on previously published works in the public domain. For when works have been moved to the public domain, those works can be used freely by anyone. Such works in the public domain include the scripts of Shakespeare, Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Yeats, and Poe.
The passage of time may usually be the biggest indicator of whether a work is in the public domain, but some owners fight to keep it copyrighted. Disney has lobbied congress for additional extensions before a work, particularly Micky Mouse, enters into the public domain. Additionally, the entirety of a work may be unprotected by being in the public domain, but certain severable elements may still be protected by copyright. For example, Disney owns its versions of fairy tale princesses but not the original works those stories are based upon, and not all of Sherlock Holmes’s character traits are in the public domain.
Even if the inspired works cannot be found in the public domain, derivative work authors may still yet have a chance at publication without infringement if the authors remove the copyrighted elements from the infringing work. James had legally published 50 Shades of Gray because she had deleted the copyrightable elements of Twilight. She additionally “transformed“ the story to such an extent that the plot and characters were no longer of Twilight but of her own. While the courts strictly find copyrights in specific details, they are more liberal and less likely to find copyrighted elements within broad themes.
If all else fails, as a last resort, or perhaps as a first stand, fans can submit a request to draw art, write love odes, and build merchandise to the original author(s) or the publishing company that owns the copyright and hope for a positive, flattered response. That is, if the owners are not offended or protective of their works.
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you…” to the lands of art and collaboration, but deal me not my soul and reputation to lose.
While these fan-driven deviant works continue to be a popular and beloved way for readers to move forward or embrace book hangovers, it proves to be a controversial source for authors and publishing companies.
Some authors remain vehemently protective of the work they have given their very soul over to and fear for how fans’ works might dilute or mutilate the original and its copyright, as well as how fans may profit based on the original author’s effort. Therefore, they prohibit the publication, posting, and selling of such materials and will sue for infringement and injunctions.
One such author, Anne Rice, posted how “[i]t upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters…. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” Following this, her lawyers sent cease and desist letters to fans. Orson Scott Card stated he will sue fans publishing fanfiction based on his work. J.K. Rowling, while usually allowing deviant fan works, has her lawyers send cease and desist letters if she feels they harm Harry Potter.
Another reason for authors to be wary and prohibit such fan creations is when a prevalent fanfiction writer accuses the original author of plagiarizing the fan’s deviant work. Author Marion Zimmer Bradley once liked and encouraged fanfiction, even going so far as reading them. However, when a fan began posting a storyline that became similar to what she had been writing, questions emerged on who plagiarized whom. Bradley stopped writing the storyline for fear she would be sued.
Other authors, troubled by Bradley’s experience, promote copyright protection. George Martin explained, “My characters are my children… I don’t want people making off with them, thank you… No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.”
On the other side of this spectrum, some authors love seeing fan creations. One author who declared fanfiction flattering and humbling is none other than fanfiction writer herself E L James. Stephanie Meyer has also commented positively about fanfiction, and instead of suing James for infringing Twilight, Meyer told MTV News about the success of 50 Shades of Gray, “Good on her—she’s doing well. That’s great!” Jay Kristoff, when discovering his works had transversed into the fanfiction world, went to Twitter and posted, “mind is blown.” Ellen Kushner “totally adooooooore[s] fanfic!”
While some authors enjoy receiving fan art and are flattered by how highly the readers regard their characters and worlds, they are restrained by their publishing companies and contracts that limit or prohibit such fan works, especially if trademark issues are present. Jennifer L. Armentrout has a FAQ page on her website detailing if permission is needed and by whom. In the meantime, she personally interacts with readers over Facebook.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered…” if the raven could quoth forevermore, forevermore shall I give my soul to books.
Now, here you are, lying in bed, having been overwrought through the first five stages of the Book Hangover. In moving forward but before returning to normal life, you consider your options. You could do ten book shimmy reps, for that should be quieter than screaming and waking your roommates before they charge in with perhaps two baseball bats. You could also draw, write, or create any object that helps express your emotions in this book. But you will have to be careful to avoid infringing upon the owner’s copyright.
In solitude, you draw the protagonist and the love interest you are now declaring to be your book spouse, and you write an epilogue occurring twenty years later. With the clock ticking down the final moments until the real world’s alarm sounds, you join a fan group, follow the author on social media, send a lovely message to the author about how you felt with the drawing attached after checking if the author permits it, and write a GoodReads review. Then, after the alarm finally goes off, you begin partaking once again in real life; although, your mind drifts every once in a while to how you could transform that epilogue into your story. With a smile slowly but surely overcoming you and chasing off sadness, you are in the sixth stage of happiness. Until you begin again.