A noble cause, to be sure – at least to those who tend to over-indulge in the consumption of alcohol – but not necessarily worthy of a 300-plus page book.
Since the start of the 21st century, there has been a massive influx of books, blogs and think pieces by people who have taken up the mantle of a sort of lifestyle reporting that combines a series of extremes with humorous observations. Whether it be a year of strictly adhering to religious text, living completely off the grid or, in the case of Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall and his Hung Over: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure, purposely subjecting himself to conditions that would result in extreme hangovers in hopes of stumbling onto some sort of cure for the age-old affliction. It’s a noble cause, to be sure – at least to those who tend to over-indulge in the consumption of alcohol – but not necessarily worthy of a 300-plus page book.
Bishop-Stall nails the self-deprecating tone so popular within this type of nonfiction writing and seems like a generally affable guy who enjoys copious amounts of alcohol on an almost daily basis (though not to the point of alcoholism, apparently) as part of his job as a freelance writer. His anecdotes are amusing (his descriptions of racing around a track in Las Vegas at more than 160-miles-per-hour while hungover/still drunk are particularly so) and his writing style is personable and easily accessible. The trouble is, there’s only so much you can write about the topic of being hungover and the quest to alleviate said hangover before you start repeating yourself, which is something he falls back on fairly early on in the book.
This approach makes Hung Over read like a long-winded, circular narrative related by a drunken friend that continuously circles back on itself unnecessarily. Plus, there are only so many ways in which you can describe a hangover before becoming increasingly redundant. So, Bishop-Stall interjects a series of anecdotes both historical and contemporary that deal both with the subject matter at hand and the more tangential subject of writing about writing about being hungover. The somewhat dubious nature of his research and its methods (i.e. drinking all the drinks all the time), he engages in a number of questioning interactions with friends, co-workers and medical practitioners.
Because of this, the more interesting bits are the historical asides dealing with the ubiquity of alcohol in Roman society, the literal and figurative Dark Ages and the corresponding punishments for drunkenness and the assorted “cures” tried by folks over the ages (powered human skull, anyone?) If anything, it shows that the more we evolve as a society, the more we remain fallibly human and susceptible to many a snake oil salesman in hopes of alleviating the effects of the damage we willing inflict on ourselves through the course of a night of drinking.
Throughout all of this, Bishop-Stall finds that, as man has found for several millennia, there is no sure-fire cure for a hangover short of not drinking at all. But that doesn’t stop him from trying all manner of folkloric cures, modern and often questionable tinctures, and a whole host of anecdotal remedies, everything from the ever-popular hair-of-the-dog to his own experiences with immersion in extremely cold water and the resulting mental clarity affords. Hung Over is a sporadically enjoyable romp through a series of salaciously drunken evenings and the resultant hellish mornings with an amiable guide willing to take anything and everything for the team, so to speak.