The other night I found myself having one of those bittersweet moments familiar to any book lover. I was in bed with a tome lying heavily on my chest, replaying in my head a book’s final scene. Two characters I’d grown to love had played out their last moments on the page and entered that quiet state of suspension between novels in a series. (Fans of George R. R. Martin, you get me here; you’ve been dealing with this sort of thing for years.)
As I so often do at the end of a story, I couldn’t resist opening the novel again and returning to that final page for another read, one last good-bye before moving on. Then, reluctantly, I placed the book back on my nightstand—not too far away, in case I wasn’t ready to cut all ties just yet. I scanned the spines of several other books piled up next to me, novels I’d been stockpiling to distract me once I reached that tiny, stubborn black dot at the end of that last deliciously crafted sentence.
I love to lose myself in a story—so much so that I’ve never developed a taste for short fiction. Perhaps I suffer from the opposite of commitment issues: I want my relationships with the people I meet between the pages to last as long as possible, especially when they make me think, cry, laugh, and gasp.
For me, parting with characters I love is akin to an inevitable but heart-bruising breakup: we shared some intensely intimate and life-changing moments, but it just couldn’t go on forever. And, like any significant breakup, it can impact your behavior. For a little while at least.
The similarities between the two—the real breakups and “book breakups”—got me thinking about coping strategies. The below are my ruminations on love, loss, and literature.
When I’m suffering withdrawal from particularly moving characters I’ve “met” in a book, I might find myself going back and rereading their best quotes or scenes. Admittedly, this is the literary equivalent of driving by your ex’s house late at night. In the early stages, this sort of behavior is fine, but don’t keep doing it to the exclusion of meeting new, great characters in other books.
Tip for the book lover: Wean yourself from this habit by stopping by your local independent bookstore and asking the book nerds there to hook you up with something that will help fill the void left in your aching heart.
Tip for the brokenhearted: For god’s sake stop reading this blog and call a professional.
The Rebound Relationship
More than once, I’ve read the first fifty pages of several books in the same genre, desperately looking for the literary doppelgangers of the characters I’m so stubbornly attached to. As in any rebound relationship, these efforts rarely fill the void.
Tip for the book lover: Don’t go looking for the exact same characters in the next book you pick up. Perhaps even take a break altogether from the particular genre you’ve just read, especially if it’s just too clear to you that nothing else will measure up for a while. This is especially true if you’ve just fallen for the latest bestselling guilty pleasure. (Not all apocalyptic teen dramas are worth your time.)
Tip for the brokenhearted: Admit the loss. Embrace it. And if you do go out with Rebound Guy—and I can’t stress this part enough—resist the urge to plaster his picture all over your Facebook page.
The “Who needs him??!!” Attitude
Ah, yes. In the world of literal breakups, this mindset can lead to exuberantly performed / inebriated renditions of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” In the world of literary breakups, it can result in some very badly penned fan fiction. In both cases, you might want to resist the urge to indulge too publicly. For this too shall pass.
Tip for the book lover: Do what you must. But know that you haven’t met your very last literary love.
Tip for the brokenhearted: You’re sort of in the denial stage of grief here. Live it for a little while—then let it go. Ice cream and a few well-chosen chick flicks can help ease the pain that follows.
The Next Great Love
Take it from me: on both the literary and literal love scene, the grief does finally end. The book lover and the lover of love and romance have yet one more thing in common: our hunger for that next great connection, both between the pages and in real life.
Tip for the book lover: The world is full of amazing books, and you’re likely to fall in love with hundreds of them in your lifetime. The next great one may be just around the corner.
Tip for the brokenhearted: Stay open. You’ll find it. Remember: your story isn’t over yet.