10 Books So Intense You'll Have A Reading Hangover When You're Done With Them

I once read Mary Karr's memoir of furious alcoholism, Lit, from beginning to end over the course of a nine-hour airplane ride. After I arrived at my destination, I slept for almost two days straight (I would not lie about something as sensitive as sleep). An avid traveler, I know me some jet lag, and this was definitely not it. Nope, what I was experiencing was a little different: something called a reading hangover.

You definitely know what I’m talking about. It’s that kind of woozy, totally disoriented, really exhausted feeling you get after binge-reading a just-can’t-put-it-down book. It’s that feeling you get when you finally do put down a book and, for a moment, can’t remember if your real life is the one you’re living or the one you were just reading about. And it can’t be just any book — it’s got to be a book so intense that it pulls you into the story completely, making you forget where you are, and even who you are, from first page to last. 

The books below are exactly the kinds of books I’m talking about — stomach-aching, body-fatiguing, brain-scrambling books which will leave you with a more severe hangover than that time you … well, anyway, you know what time I’m talking about. So the next time your friends invite you to an all-nighter at the pub, you can say: “forget that, let’s just stay in and binge-read [insert your book of choice here].” 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride’s debut novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the kind of book that leaves you with more questions than answers, not least of which being: Do I love this book? Do I hate this book? Is this book genius? Do I care? Am I still glad I read it, regardless of the answers to any of the above questions? This novel is written in highly experimental prose. It's a form which fits the content: issues of mental illness and depression, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. By the end, not only will you feel inescapably locked in the characters’ heads, but you’ll also have to reintroduce yourself to prepositions and conjunctions (you’ll see what I mean). 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood is going insane, and she's taking you with her — or rather, Sylvia Plath is, in her novel The Bell Jar. This novel takes the coming-of-age story and turns it inside out, as Esther moves from the literary world of New York City to the pale confines of a state mental hospital. You will honestly think you're losing your own mind by the end of this novel. 

Healing Earthquakes by Jimmy Santiago Baca

The rhythmic lyricism of poet Jimmy Santiago Baca is more than enough to mesmerize you, but throw in the intense love story that Healing Earthquakes chronicles, and you’re in store for one wicked reading hangover. Baca puts you inside these lovers’ heads, from the years before they meet through the successes and failures of their life-long relationship. A novel written in poems, this is one you’ll definitely want to devour in a single sitting. 

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

This novel is going to make you really, really angry. But you should definitely read it anyway. Bastard Out of Carolina tells the unbearable coming-of-age story of a young girl nicknamed Bone and the rough but dedicated family members who try to help raise her when her mother marries a violent and abusive man. It will make you think closely about the shocking lives families lead when they think no one is watching. 

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

The girls of Yonahlossee are far enough removed from the real world — high in the Blue Ridge Mountains — that the troubles that plague their families back home often take a backseat to their personal longings: boys, sex, popularity, gossip, and horses. What no one is immune to is the fact that every decision they make, at home or away, has the capacity to alter their already-tenuous young lives forever. Dangerous and suspenseful and compelling, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is so consuming it actually hurts to put down. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Any attempt to summarize author Gillian Flynn’s thrilling Gone Girl is going to be rife with spoiler alerts, so if you haven’t yet read the novel that took last summer by storm, suffice it to say that Flynn is a writer always one step (or five steps, or 20) ahead of her readers, and the twists and turns of this plot will leave you dizzy and wanting more. 

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things exists in a world of both fantasy and reality, and explores what happens when these two realms clash irreversibly. When the inexperienced and imprisoned, slow-simmering Coralie Sardie meets the rash and angry, always-searching-for-something Eddie Cohen, you know their relationship won't take long to become explosive. Set in 1911 New York City, this story takes place in a city on the brink of disaster and transformation, and in a grotesque museum that has outlived its relevance in a way that drives it's owner, the terrifying man known as “Professor,” into absolute insanity. 

Lit by Mary Karr

Lit is a memoir of the alcohol abuse that defined memoirist Mary Karr’s life for many years, and the addiction-fueled lens through which she observed her career, her marriage, and motherhood. Karr writes, “For me, everything's too much and nothing's enough,” words that almost exactly describe how you'll feel about this memoir as well.  

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

What is it about the psychiatric institutions of the late 1960s that make for unbearably compelling books? Girl, Interrupted is the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who at 18 was unceremoniously sent to a mental institution after a single meeting with a psychiatrist. As Kaysen profiles the young women she's been essentially warehoused with, the terrifying question you’ll be asking yourself throughout the entire book is whether or not she actually belongs there with them. 

An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson

As a teenager, author Mary Johnson began her life as a sister with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order of nuns. She took the name Sister Donata — meaning “freely given” — and moved to the South Bronx at the age of 19 to begin her journey in service to the poor. As she falls in and out of love, first with a fellow sister and later with a priest, Johnson describes the struggle to form an identity in a setting where so many decisions are being made for you. An Unquenchable Thirst takes readers behind the mysterious doors of the cloister and convent, depicting the intensely human experience of striving for Godliness. 

Image: Emmy Ze/Flickr; Giphy

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