Thanksgiving: It's the next big holiday on the radar. Although some loathe it for the ridiculous amount of cooking they'll have to do, or the crazy family members they'll have to face, there are actually lots of reasons to love this holiday. (The first thing that comes to my mind is usually pumpkin ale, but I'm sure you can think of plenty more on your own.)
In the craziness of Thanksgiving, a lot of times many of us forget to stop and remember what the holiday is all about — a chance to appreciate the good things in your life. Enter these 12 titles. These books have taught me a thing or two about the beauty of giving thanks.
It's the perfect time to read them, no? It tends to happen to me automatically; around the start of holiday season, I find myself craving stories that have impacted my life in some way. Besides re-reading A Christmas Carol and going through the emotional stages of loving and hating Mr. Scrooge in equal measure, I tend to reach for the books that have made me appreciative of something in my life that I may not have otherwise thought about, or something on a far grander scale about the world we inhabit. Things outside the usual, "I'm thankful for my family and for my job," (though obviously these are worth being thankful for, too!).
Hopefully, these will do the same for you.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan often (uncannily so), seems to make predictions and observations of what is to come. She takes seemingly menial daily routines and turns them into poetics. A Visit from the Goon Squad was amazing for these reasons, but even more so for its ability to demonstrate the beauty of the interconnectivity of life — and more impressively, still, to make us kind of thankful for it. The book makes us realize that we're all connected to each other in some way, and, subsequently, that maybe we'll never truly be alone.
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Oscar Wao presented us with the beauty of the imperfect family and self. To most people, protagonist Oscar's life would seem like a muddle of failures and almosts — the least appealing thing since Candy Corn Oreos, maybe. And yet, Oscar was so thankful for just about everything: for the friends who weren't always such great friends, for his chaotic family and cultural history, for the Kingdom of Geekdom that led to so much of his unpopularity and most of all, for the lover who never quite loved him enough.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The beauty of dystopian fiction often lies in its ability to portray the realities of the human condition, exaggerated enough so that the problems within our society finally become obvious. It's easy to read Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451and think, "Thank heavens the world hasn't gotten that bad," but a closer read will show the dangers of book banning — something still quite prevalent within our culture today. The book's capacity to make us appreciate other books is no less than stupendous.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Continuing on the dystopian trail, Margaret Atwood has become the queen of dystopian fiction and one of the most inspiring feminist writers of our day. The Handmaid's Tale is the embodiment of both these things. Not only does this novel make us extremely thankful for feminism and all that the movement has achieved — a magnificent feat in and of itself. It also makes us thankful for our human ability to see and feel things strongly, and be willing to strive for change when it's needed.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
There are few '90s babies who weren't exposed to Danny DeVito's film adaptation of Matilda as a child. Falling in love with Mara Wilson on screen led to curiosity about Roald Dahl and the Matilda of the book. Reading Matilda is an emotional experience for all of us who've ever felt different, weird, or abnormal in some way — for all of us who've been the odd one out. But through Matilda, we learn to be thankful for our individualism. We learn that the unordinary traits are what lead to extraordinary experiences.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
The characters in Norwegian Wood are fragile, broken, and uncoordinated. They are lost twentysomethings. But nothing about the novel is cliché. Through Norwegian Wood, we become increasingly thankful for the unexpected failed plans that lead to brilliant memories, and for curveballs that create something beautiful in the end.
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean
In this collection of essays, Susan Orlean tells us about her "encounters with extraordinary people," most of whom would sadly be dismissed as boring or average if described by just anyone. But by reading about the life of a 10-year-old boy growing up in suburbia, interested in comic books and PlayStation, we become intensely thankful for all the little things that make regular days so much better. Like cartoons or stuffed animals or Netflix — things that are sort of small in the scheme of life but that are great to come home to after school or work.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson was always a remarkable teacher of experience. He advocated trying everything once (or multiple times), fearing nothing, and doing it all (under your own terms, of course). Fear and Loathing: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream mirrored Thompson's views on recreational drug use, on the beauty of spontaneity, on the risks of following the crowd. But it also taught us to be extremely thankful for the opportunity to have experiences — even failure. It taught us that sometimes, not achieving the big dream leads to new dreams (or the realization that the initial, addictive dream wasn't true or even good to begin with).
Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Malorie Blackman's Naughts and Crosses should probably be required reading. It describes an alternative history, where Homo sapiens evolved while Pangea was still in tact — and subsequently, where African people gained technological and organizational advantage over Europeans. This first novel, and the series of books that followed, plays with constructs of black versus white; right versus wrong. It's a reality check. Like The Handmaid's Tale, it makes us realize how far we've come in terms of civil rights — and intensely grateful for that fact — but it also showcases how much could still be improved.
Nation by Terry Pratchett
In this non-Discworld novel, author and sci-fi guru Terry Pratchett presents us with two child protagonists: Mao and Ermintrude. The former a native of a remote island; the latter the daughter of English nobility (or as good as nobility, anyway). When deserted on the island post-tsunami — the only two survivors of the natural disaster — the pair is forced to develop new ways of communication. They must learn to interact with each other, and learn from each other. And through their relationship, we become progressively more thankful for our own ability to communicate with others: for speech, for body language, for sign language, for meaningful silence.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
We all know the story of the grotesque but kindhearted creature: the unorthodox science experiment that led to a thinking, living organism, capable of rational decision and invested in the acquisition of knowledge. Frankenstein is a classic tale for many reasons, but among them is the story's vast technological implications. Through Frankenstein, we muse on the beauty and the terror of technology. We become extremely thankful for all the developments in health or the pursuit and spread of knowledge facilitated by technology, for instance — but cautious of not taking things far too far.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
In the 10 years since its publication, there's been a lot of speculation as to whether Christopher John Francis Boone — the 15-year-old protagonist of Mark Haddon's novel — is meant to portray Asperger's Syndrome, Autism, or Savant Syndrome. People have debated whether or not Haddon's intention was to depict mental illness. But in 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog, "If anything, it's a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way." Christopher's ways don't always make sense. Sometimes you can't help but actually hate him. But he does succeed in making us thankful for difference, and for the people we know who see the world in an unusual way.