Are you planning a trip home for the upcoming holidays? You are not alone. Last year American Automobile Association (AAA) Travel estimated that more than 46 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more from home for the Thanksgiving weekend, the highest volume for the holiday since 2007.
Almost 90 percent of those travelers hit the road for Mom or Grandma’s house by car. With lower gas prices, that number is likely to increase this year.
Books on Thanksgiving
Whether you are traveling by car, bus, train or plane to visit family this year, you may be nervous about how things will go around the Thanksgiving table. Try tucking one of these novels in your travel bag. A peek into the lives of these fictional dysfunctional families will make your family seem positively normal.
Thanksgiving reading – Swamplandia by Karen Russell (Knopf, 2011)
Meet Ava Bigtree. She grew up on a family-run alligator theme park in the Everglades where her late mom was the star attraction. Her older brother goes to work at a competing theme park in the city, and her older sister communicates with the dead. It is difficult to classify this unconventional Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Suffice it to say it will make your family seem quite ordinary by comparison.
Russell’s novel captures the raw reality of grief and financial failure and mixes them with fantasy adding a dash of family love and loyalty. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this book offers quite a ride. It is one worth taking.
Thanksgiving reading – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2013)
This engrossing story is told through the voice of the protagonist, Rosemary. We first meet Rosemary as a 22-year-old college student. Fowler has the ability to make us feel we are having a deep one-sided conversation with Rosemary. As she shares details and stories about her life and her flawed family, we jump around in time with her.
A winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, this novel treats family ties in both a snappy (sometimes snarky) and a sentimental way. When you are finished reading the novel, you are sure to look upon the tricky relationships – particularly the ones you have with your siblings — in your life with a little more wit and wisdom than before.
Thanksgiving reading – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Harper, 1943)
This story of the day-to-day reality of life of an Irish American family in the early 20th century is one of my favorite novels. Smith takes us back and forth in time with Francie Nolan, an engaging young protagonist who realizes early in life that she must rely on her imagination, her intelligence and her strength of character to make it in the world.
Favorite quote: “People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
Thanksgiving reading – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (Harper, 1970 first English translation)
This extraordinary novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez was first published in 1967. With a sense of sometimes startling magical realism, Marquez tells us about seven generations of the Buendía family. The author’s incredible fluidity, poetry and passion sweep us through the founding and development of Columbia and this interesting family. It is an exhausting and satisfying journey through time and place.
Hint: If this is your first time reading this classic work, be sure to make frequent use of the family tree in the beginning of the book. If you don’t, you are likely to be frustrated for a while.
Thanksgiving reading – The Vacationers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, 2014)
Does your family travel together for the holidays? If so, join the fictional Post Family as the members vacation in Mallorca.
Franny and Jim take their daughter, Sylvia, who has just graduated from high school, and their extended family and friends for a two-week celebration of their wedding anniversary. The trip offers the promise of warm weather, sunny beaches and an escape from the busyness of New York City life.
As you might expect, not all goes well, and Straub has a way of drawing us into the lives of these characters as we learn about old scars and new secrets. It makes you think about the parts of yourself that you reveal to others and the parts that you conceal and the impact those choices have on family relationships.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, visiting friends and family is the biggest reason Americans travel during the holidays. Family visits account for 53 percent of all long-distance trips during the Thanksgiving holiday and 43 percent of the long-distance trips during Christmas week.
Although media attention tends to focus on heavy travel the day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day itself is usually a heavier long-distance travel day than Wednesday. Whenever you head the road or the skies, be sure to tuck along plenty of reading material and Happy Thanksgiving.