There are three things I never leave for home without: a bottle of wine, a copy of my passport, and a good book. Sure, the wine might only make it through the first night, and yes, the passport occasionally gets forgotten or confiscated at the least of convenient times (ask me about it over that bottle of wine), but the book — it has always been there for me.
Whether it was Wuthering Heights over Christmas Break or Play It As It Lays that fateful weekend my heart was broken and I had to make my way home by bus, the right book has always made the difference. And now, with Thanksgiving break approaching, I've started frantically scanning my shelves, lining up my options, and doing some serious weighing of alternatives.
So for those of you who haven't yet succumbed to the Thanksgiving break book panic, allow me to offer some suggestions — a few (is 15 a few?) options to consider as you pack for the most patriotic of all meal-based holidays. Whether you're looking to embrace the oncoming onslaught of family, food, and organized fun or escape at a moment's notice, I've got the literary pick for you. So read up, choose carefully — and if you're traveling internationally, for God's sake, don't forget to copy your passport. Happy Turkey Day, everyone.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Personally, I'm of the opinion that sometimes you just want to immerse yourself in drama not of your own making (and it doesn't hurt to find it in the form of a relationship so flawed, epic, and honest that it approaches grand tragedy). Franzen's poignant journey through time and space to true understanding will keep you occupied and engaged (albeit perhaps not with the dishes or Turkey prep) throughout the long holiday — as long as you don't mind shedding a few tears along the way.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Last year I casually asked my mom to send a few books from my collection that she thought I would enjoy rereading, and this beast of a classic arrived in the box. I have to say, I was stymied — I felt like such a jerk carrying War and Peace with me on the subway. Yet, truth be told, I had never actually read Tolstoy's immortal tale. After weeks of staring it down on the bedside table, I finally got down to business, and let me now confirm what you may have been so wary of actually believing: It's worth it. If you can get past the staggering cast of characters and the confounding chronology, you'll find a grand family narrative worthy of even the most tragic Thanksgiving feasts. Give it a try — at the very least it will probably provide you with a few moments' peace; after all, nobody wants to talk Tolstoy at the dinner table, you can take my word on that.
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
If heading home gives you the heebie-jeebies, there's no one better to share the journey with than good old Edgar Allan Poe. With this dark, romantic tale of terror, heredity, and home sweet home, you'll have so much literary horror to worry about you won't have time to focus on your own dark drama.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
There is nothing like curling up by the fire with a great mystery, a romantic tale of passion and intrigue on a dark and starless night. So if you like your holidays like your mysteries — rich, classic, and full of love — Du Maurier's Rebecca is not to be missed. I reread this romantic classic every time I'm in need of a little comfort food for my literary soul, and it never fails to do the job.
The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
In the spirit of truly stellar mystery stories, this unique narrative offers up an alternative universe in which a temporary refugee camp for displaced Jews during World War II becomes a full-fledged Semitic settlement in the heart of Alaska. The ensuing tale of derring-do owes as much to the imagination of the creator as the fully realized and engaging characters. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might even pick up a little Yiddish along the way.
The Shining by Stephen King
Trust me, the Stanley Kubrick motion picture has nothing on the original — King is a master of suspense, and this book will leave you tingling, tortured, and on the absolute edge of your seat. So if you're looking to lose yourself in a work of fiction this holiday break and you don't mind a little snow and a few scares along the way, look no further than The Shining.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt's lauded look into the world of one young boy's journey brings new meaning to the family drama and the far-flung mystery. Impress your parents, inspire your friends, and enjoy yourself with this beautifully written, fully manifested tale of love, loss, grief, and hope.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
This book was a last-minute addition to my most recent vacation reading list, and let me tell you it more than made up for its astonishing weight in pure reading pleasure. This is the literature-lover's ultimate escapist fantasy, taking you back in time and around the world, Catton brings life and mystery to a sprawling adventure story that will inspire and awe you. I'd loan you my copy but I've already got a waiting list — buy your own, I guarantee you won't regret it.
This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Holmes
We all fall down and sometimes we just need a reminder that slipping is universal, confusion is a necessary component of the human condition, and your family will not always understand you. Nothing says "stick with it" like Holmes' sweet, odd story of a father's quick slip into an entirely new life. If you think you'll be in need of a little reassurance this holiday break, bring Holmes along for the ride.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
If you're a fan of pure escapism with a dark, sexy twist, Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers will push all the right buttons for you. Art, passion, love, lust, and more than a few quick rides down dark roads make this book as alluring as Johnny Depp in the '90s, and you'd take him home with you for Thanksgiving, wouldn't you?
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
If you just can't bring yourself to bag War and Peace, and Freedom feels just a little to postmodern for your taste, try this epic on for size. Weighing in at 912 pages, this little diddy was the darling of the Ivy League a few short years ago, and for good reason. Tackling murder, mysogny, mysticism, and the state of the novel in Mexico, Bolaño's book won't just make you look good, it will make you feel...well, if not good, at least engaged, and who doesn't want to bring a little engagement home with them for the holidays.
One Man's Meat by E.B. White
When I think Thanksgiving I think Maine — the sea, the salt air, the wide-ranging woods, I actually can't explain it. I've never spent a single holiday in Maine; in fact, I've never spent more than a few hours in the car passing through, but somehow it just feels right. And when I settle in for a solid few hours with these tidbits from White's life on a family farm on the coast of the Pine Tree State, I feel surrounded by the perfect atmosphere for Thanksgiving. So if you're stuck somewhere unseasonably warm or just antithetical to your take on the classic holiday traditions, try some E.B. White — it'll cure what ails you.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
There have been times when I would have turned to Dr. Phil rather than take the advice of my mother for the hundredth time over the holiday weekend. Take it from me, don't go there; turn instead to the illustrious Ms. Tina Fey and get your house in order with humor and humility. You and your mother will thank you for it.
Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
If you're looking to get away from it all this holiday break, and I really do mean very, very far away from it all, turn to the cosmos with Italo Calvino. One of the most unique poetic voices ever to conquer contemporary literature, Calvino's meditative and deeply symbolic short stories are transformative and transporting, the perfect way to elevate your holiday.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Somehow this title captures exactly how I feel about the holidays, it's just...perfect, which is akin to how I feel about the rest of Fowler's snark, snappy, and very smart story of traumatized siblings and a deeply flawed family unit. With wit, whimsy, and piercing observational wisdom, We Are Completely Beside Ourselves belongs in your bag whether or not you'll be in need of a little comfort this coming holiday break.