8 Literary Topics to Serve Up for Discussion at Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner table conversations can be tricky, especially when you have family from all different walks of life — and all different schools of thought — coming together under one roof. Politics? Ferguson? Education? These aren't necessarily the best of talks to tackle if you'd like to stay on speaking terms with your uncle you see once a year... or maybe even your mother. I get it. I really, really do.

Instead of feeling like you have to run away to hide in your trusty book as the dinner conversation heads toward a direction you simply don't want to be a part of, why not steer it yourself? Yes, even if your family doesn’t read literary fiction or keep tabs on the new David Foster Wallace movie, you can still talk all about all the good books are doing in this dog-eat-dog world — whether it's advancing science, fostering more empathetic human relationships, or earning authors more prestige and, yes, even a little cash along the way. They'll be pretty impressed, and drop that immigration debate.

(And, if they still want to argue, there's the e-books versus print debate. Always.)

So, book-lovers and literary devotees, instead of tucking your book-love deep down in the pit of your chest while your family starts World War III, this Thanksgiving, bring the topic to the table. Here are some things everyone can get a word in on:

For the Literary Skeptic: France declares books an “essential good”

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The question, “Why do you write?” is a common one across the Thanksgiving table. For curious or outright befuddled relatives, cite The New York Times story from early July, which reports that, alongside necessities like food and electricity, France has declared books an “essential good.” Also known as the anti-Amazon law, this designation means that distributors, by law, cannot offer deep discounts (more than 5 percent) on books, which will promote independent bookstores and more diversity in publishing. You might imbue this news with subtle gift-giving undertones, gently encouraging the family to take more trips to their local bookstores.

For the Celeb-Lover: Tom Hanks to publish book of short stories

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Mothers, distant cousins, even curmudgeonly uncles — everybody loves Tom Hanks. This Thanksgiving, clue your family in to his latest literary endeavor — short stories! In addition to his recent New Yorker story, “Alan Bean Plus Four,” which is about teens who fly a homemade rocket to the moon, he’s also penning a whole collection inspired in part by his love of vintage typewriters. If Tom Hanks is doing it, then writing short stories must not be all that bad.

For the Patriot: Man Booker opens up prize to American writers

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Patriots and prize-lovers alike will love this tidbit about The Man Booker Prize, which, for the first time in its 45-year history, changed its rules to allow American authors to enter. This comes as a huge boon to American writers who now have a shot at receiving the prestige this award has afforded such authors as Salman Rushdie, A.S. Byatt, and Margaret Atwood — not to mention the hefty bounty of £50,000 (over $80,000).

For the History Buff: Sherlock Holmes characters free for public use

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For the family sleuth, history buff, or anyone who has watched one of the many adaptations of Sherlock Homes over the past few years, this story can spark all sorts of great conversations. In 2013, a Chicago judge ruled Sherlock Holmes characters are no longer protected by copyright law. Stories published before 1923 can be mashed up and manipulated to anyone’s desire. Why not celebrate this Thanksgiving with a Holmes-inspired mystery theater reenactment?

For the Science-Minded: NASA and the search for aliens

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With the success of Interstellar this year, it’s not inconceivable that the topic of space travel will arise over Thanksgiving. Dazzle the relatives with some book-related news from NASA, which released a free e-book this summer that covers everything from the history of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to theories on how to establish meaningful communication with aliens. You can even spice up the conversation by posing the question, “What would you say to an alien?”

For the Sports Enthusiast: Quidditch documentary hits theaters

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Muggles rejoice! From the books to the silver screen, everyone has a soft spot for the wand-wielding characters in Harry Potter and their beloved sport, Quidditch. Even for the most HP-intolerant family members, the concept of a documentary following a bunch of Quidditch enthusiasts — or men and women “riding” around on brooms and attempting to throw a ball through a hoop — will get you at least get a few chuckles. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even suggest taking a foray into the yard for a family Quidditch game!

For the Superhero Fanatic: Superman comic auctioned for millions

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Comics are big business these days. For older relatives, Superman comics are a nostalgic reminder of superhero days past, while younger relatives will be closely attuned to the many superhero movies and TV shows coming out over the next few years. Get everyone saying “Wow” with a mouthful of stuffing and cranberry sauce when you tell them the first Superman comic auctioned for @3.2 million at a 2014 auction — one of the largest prices for a comic book, or any book, every tallied.

For the Tech Savvy: FingerReader to help the vision-impaired

Family members, especially the farsighted, will be excited to know that the FingerReader — a gizmo that will help them stay in the know when it comes to books, newspapers, menus, and possibly even iPhones by providing a flexible alternative to brail — is coming out in the very near future. By sliding a small ring over text, readers can hear everything from short stories to weather reports read aloud.

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