Once upon a time I lived in a great and beautiful city — one that was neither overwhelmingly large nor terribly far from the home I grew up in. But because of my particular neighborhood of choice in said city and my inability to parallel park rendering the ownership of a car useless, living there resulted in exceptionally long holiday commutes home. Bus rides that deposited me onto subway platforms, subways that coughed me out onto suburban rail lines, and a journey by train filled with 16 long stops until I finally saw my mother, still defrosting the windshield of her car, parked outside my hometown train station. I could have probably walked home faster — but then, I suppose, wouldn’t have been able to read on the commute.
A word to the wise: your Thanksgiving commute reads have more power than you think. After all, at the end of your travels home there’s an entire houseful of people waiting to ask you exceedingly personal questions about life, love, if you’re actually going to make any money in your chosen profession, and whether or not you’ve commenced growing a new human in your uterus. You want to choose some Thanksgiving reading material that’ll have you well prepared — and maybe even help you appreciate your crazy, unfiltered family all the more.
Here are seven books to keep you company on your way home for Thanksgiving — and to totally prep you for the chaos that will inevitably ensue once you get there. At least if your family is anything like mine.
1. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Featuring some of the most hilarious explorations into family life ever penned to page, David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a collection of laugh-out-loud tales of childhood memories and family drama — including the time Sedaris's mother locked her children out in the snow, and Sedaris' father's experiences as a landlord. Sedaris's writing will make you more aware of all the opportunities for hilarity in your own family life.
2. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
From polishing caskets in her family's funeral home to wishing she were a cowboy, graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel knows the normalized strangeness of family life all too well. Fun Home is Bechdel's coming-of-age and coming-out story about being raised by her emotionally distant father, a closeted homosexual, and details the momentous occasion of Bechdel's own coming-out experience.
3. Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch
Described by author Richard Bausch himself as "a love comedy with sorrows," Thanksgiving Night tells the story of what happens when the family you were born into collides head-on with the family you choose for yourself later in life. Filled with the kind of characters who inhabit every family — the bickering elderly ladies, the on-edge married couple, the younger children who are aware of far more than the rest of the family knows. This is definitely an accurately titled work of fiction.
4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
You'll definitely finish Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You with a sinking suspicion that he was talking about you and your family all along. A perfect literary balance of characters who you will love and love to hate, and who always seem to be offering up something of themselves to be laughed at, This Is Where I Leave You meets the Foxman family as they sit Shiva amid an impending engagement and divorce, infidelity, drunken debaucheries, pregnancy, infertility, fist fights and fornication. Phew.
5. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
When memoirist Jeannette Walls sees her homeless mother rummaging through a dumpster on the streets of New York City, from the window of her passing taxi cab, she does not ask the driver to stop. The Glass Castle tells the story of Walls's unbelievable childhood — her parents’ bohemian unpredictability and irresponsibility, their personal failings and violence, their ill conceptions of child-rearing, their stubbornness, and ultimately, their wholly imperfect beauty. This memoir, filled with characters you will simultaneously love and hate, tests the limits of family forgiveness and acceptance.
6. Family Furnishings by Alice Munro
This collection of Alice Munro's most beloved short stories features many beautiful and complexly rendered tales of family life in small town Ontario. From children who leave home to spouses who leave marriages, through all the hard and wonderful decisions we make for the family we love, Family Furnishings covers it all.
7. Such a Life by Lee Martin
Such A Life is a memoir-of-essays by writer Lee Martin, written in prose both wise and grandfatherly, always honest and occasionally bemused, richly detailed and un-self-consciously personal. Martin writers of everything from the loss of both his father's hands in a farming accident to his adulthood decision to become vegan, exploring how the people we grow up to become are sometimes very different from the families we come from.