Joan Acocella’s piece on hangovers in this week’s New Yorker is chock-full of fascinating tidbits and anecdotes so amusing that you might laugh at them even if suffering the titular fate (“A Few Too Many”). Acocella manages to give the hangover an impressive pedigree, tracing the possibility of it back even to prehistory. The Egyptians, we are informed, made 17 varieties of beer, and buried their dead with the stuff. Acocella even gets a biochemist to theorize on why the hair of the dog works. She also gives us this beautiful Kingsley Amis quote on the malady’s metaphysical ills:
When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. . . .You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.
As for cures, there are suggestions galore (many of which sound familiar): water and vitamin C before bed, greasy food in the morning, caffeine, pickled foods. Do any of them really work? Sadly, writes Acocella, the science is thin; in fact, “There may be more information on hangover cures in college newspapers—a rich source—than in the scientific literature.” While it might be financially attractive for researchers to come up with a cure, she says, puritanical ethical questions have prohibited it. Apparently, no pleasure comes without a price—we think we need to suffer, and the hangover suffices.