Do you find yourself sad when you finish a great book? I’ll one up you. I start getting sad about halfway through. I see the end coming and I slow down my reading to try to draw it out. Sit with a chapter or section each day to try to make it last an extra week. Part of this, I’m convinced, is a sort of grief for the loss of recent friends or the change of circumstances, and part of it is a pessimism that I’ll ever find another book this good. I remember reading Klara and the Sun last year and thinking about halfway through, Damn, how long until old Kazuo gives us something new given that I ONLY WANT TO READ HIS BOOKS AND NOTHING ELSE EVER AGAIN. But a week or two later I was over it. Anyway, the BBC looks into the psychology behind your book grief. Apparently, the problem is: we don’t have enough connection anymore. (Anymore? I feel like I’ve been having this problem since the 70s.)
Bijal Shah, a bibliotherapist and author, is like a literary version of a matchmaker and counselling service in one – helping her clients find books that aid their mental well-being. According to Shah, the post-audiobook blues might be a hint of something innately human. “That is very, very common. It’s a sense of loss that you feel at the end [of a book] and you’re grieving. It’s like saying goodbye to so many friends you’ve made, because you’ve got to know this person over the course of the book and now there’s no more connection, and this is why sequels do so well – it’s that continuity.”
The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have re-calibrated many of our lives and our minds in ways we’d never thought likely. So, here in 2022, where are we heading with our yearning for personal connection? “I think the way our culture is going is that we are so focused on individualism, that we are now sort of craving that collective community. My parent’s generation and their parents grew up in these communities where it was all about helping each other and less self-focused,” Shah says.
“Whereas now… we need other people to constantly affirm us because we don’t have those natural connections that our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation had – that sense of community where we knew our place, we knew who we were, we knew where we belonged. I think we’re lacking that, currently. I think books probably fill up that space because they’re forging [that sense of community] by vicarious connections, so filling those holes, perhaps.”
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I feel this very keenly depending on the book. When I was a new book rep, for two terrifying days I drove Robertson Davies around Vancouver. The first thing I asked him was if he missed the characters he wrote about. He said “NO” and seemed affronted by the mere idea.