After a Great Book, The Doldrums

Does anyone else get the doldrums after finishing a particular great book? I’ve found that there’s a satisfying literary aftertaste for a couple days, and then all of  a sudden every new book is dead on the page. I’ll pick up another book or two, try different genres or authors, but nothing helps. These are the Great Book Doldrums.

My most palpable sense of the Great Book Doldrums came after Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. Beyond the obvious effect of the subject matter, the book was so brilliant and so powerful that I couldn’t even approach another book for a week. And as any serious reader knows, a week without reading may as well be a week without water. I still count the book as among my nonfiction top ten.

After the great Asterios Polyp, which was so fresh and alive with ideas, nothing’s doing. Tried the new Pynchon (one of my favorite authors, ever)… meh. Read a couple of Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories from The Question of Bruno… meh. Maybe I’ll swing the pendulum the other direction and try some nonfiction, but all the lights are a little dimmer after Mazzucchelli’s 500 watt bulb.

Does anyone know of a cure for the Great Book Doldrums? Is it variety? Some sort of media clense? Whiskey?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “After a Great Book, The Doldrums

  1. georgiakelly

    This just happened to me with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. My usual chaser is also a dose of genre reading: two or three romance novels (they go quickly). Works every time.

    • chapmanchapman

      “Cloud Atlas” is one my favorite contemporary novels – I think I had to switch to Winnie the Pooh afterward for a palate cleanser.

  2. It’s funny Cody mentions the Border Trilogy – I remember finishing Blood Meridian and, after starting and stopping half a dozen books (that I later went on to finish – and enjoy), I finally went back to an old favorite, “The Sun Also Rises.” It’s a novel I try and re-read yearly, and never have a problem immersing myself in the story. Though never underestimate the benefits of travel and whiskey to help!

  3. Cody

    Ah, the doldrums! I remember a particularly bad case a few years back after finishing the Border Trilogy. I wish I had an answer, though whisky’s never a bad idea, in my opinion. Switching genres (as suggested above) seems prudent, too. Or, if not flipping genres, then at least read something so different that it’ll seem incomparable.
    I have Mazzucchelli in my hold queue at the library and am eager to dive in, but I now consider myself adequately warned of the post-Polyp withdrawals.

    Really just “meh” for *Inherent Vice*? I’m 100 pages in and think that it’s damn entertaining, if not the “usual” mind-melt that one comes to expect from Pynchon. But there’s something else at play here that I can’t quite put my finger on, and that’s what’s most intriguing—I think that, among many other things, he’s playing with our preconceived expectations of what a Pynchon novel is supposed be. At this point, I definitely think that, of all the press/criticism the book’s received thus far, Louis Menand’s review is the most spot-on, as it hasn’t fallen in the trap of merely writing this off as “Pynchon Lite”:

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/08/03/090803crbo_books_menand

    • chapmanchapman

      I think, after “No Country for Old Men,” and Denis Johnson’s “Nobody Move,” I’m hesitant on another literary titan tackling the genre. I’ll check out the Menand article. I liked Kirn’s piece in the NYT, he seemed to contextualize the book appropriately. Most critics seemed to take it at face value.

      • Cody

        You’re right, Kirn’s piece was good, too. (Kakutani’s: lousy, as usual.)

        Yes, the literature to genre transition can be treacherous, but I really think that Pynchon nails noir–maybe it’s because he puts an over-the-top twist (the 60s/hippie element) on an already over-the-top genre (he also had a bit of practice, too, trying out noir with Lew Basnight in *Against the Day*). Either way, it’s certainly more successful than *No Country,* in my opinion. Of course, I’m biased, too, being so keen on all things noir.

  4. Yes! It sucks when that happens. Esp. with lit fiction. I try to go from great lit fiction to biography or a really scary horror book. That way, I’m not scrutinizing the same way — I can still get lost in it, but in a different sort of way. It also leaves me with way too many lit fic TBRs on my night stand (and desk and floor). but, I’ve got time…

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