The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest times for travel in the United States; the American Automobile Association puts the number of weekend travelers at an estimated 47 Million people. Which means millions will spend hours waiting in airport lounges, train stations and in tortoise-slow interstate traffic. If you want to avoid the homecoming blues, why not lose yourself in a great book?
We've picked out five excellent works of literature which can be read in just a few hours—each a perfect fit for the homeward-bound holiday traveler.
1. For the Fiction Aficionado: The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
A beguiling work of meta-fictional literature, narrated with a deadpan wit by the unreliable Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez Sanchez; The Story of My Teeth is Highway’s “dental autobiography.” Highway trains at the Missouri Auction School after discovering a passion for the art of auctioneering. He soon develops his own method: telling exaggerated tales about the objects for sale, restoring their value through ‘an elegant surpassing of the truth.’ What are the most precious objects of Highway’s soon-to-be-auctioned collection? Why, the teeth of Plato, Petrarch and Virginia Woolf, of course. Written by the Mexico-born Luiselli in collaboration with workers at a Jumex juice factory in industrial Mexico City, this is a confidently written novel with a depth that belies its brief page count.
2. For the Deep Thinker: Between the World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
It’s been a year of crisis in America. Long-simmering tensions have erupted in inner cities, Southern suburbs and college campuses, drawing attention to racism and violence against Black Americans. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and recent recipient of a MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant, addresses this crisis head-on. Written as a letter to his young son, Between the World and Me is a powerful and deeply personal reckoning with America’s unbroken history of violence against the Black body. Toni Morrison hails Coates’ book as “required reading,” and after his National Book Award win for Non-Fiction this month, you can bet that you won’t be the only one reading this short book over the holidays.
3. For the Thrill Seeker: All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Be thankful your family dinners don’t look like the one that’s played out in the pages of Olen Steinhauer’s latest spy thriller. Central Intelligence Agency case officer Henry Pelham has travelled to California to meet his ex-lover Celia Harrison for dinner. They haven’t seen each other since terrorists took over a hundred people hostage in Vienna six years ago, an event that ended in tragedy. Henry and Celia were in the city that fateful night. Both are haunted by the secrets they’ve kept from their superiors about the crisis and the agent they had on the inside. As the evening unfolds, the truth will be revealed, but the pair may not survive its unveiling. You’ll burn through this taut, suspenseful novel in no time.
4. For Short Stops: The Best American Short Stories 2015 edited by T.C. Boyle & Heidi Pitlor (series editor)
PEN/Faulkner winner T.C. Boyle, best known for novels that explore the dark side of both nature and humanity, has assembled a collection of powerful stories by seasoned novelists, including Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin) and Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich (The Round House), and younger writers, like Diane Cook (This American Life). From emotionally-stunted wives and grieving widowers to an extreme-sports boatman, there’s sure to be more than a few characters whose story touches your heart. And the short story form is ready-made for dipping into during brief lulls in your trip.
If personal history, philosophical argument or scientific breakthroughs are more your thing, the Best American series includes collections of the best essays and scientific writing published in magazines and literary journals last year.
5. For the Young (Or Youthful) Adult: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
The author of The Interestings, The Ten-Year Nap and three other critically acclaimed novels for adults released this smart, sweet homage to Sylvia Plath for teens last year. After her British boyfriend dies, Jam Gallahue spirals into a dark depression. Her desperate parents bring her to The Wooden Barn, an arts-focused boarding school for emotionally troubled teenagers in the Vermont woods. The setting recalls the gifted school at the center of The Interestings, and this short book has a healthy dose of the wonderful character moments and emotional insights Wolitzer is known for. Not to mention a delightful dash of magical realism that will keep you turning pages, no matter your years.
*A Bonus Recommendation for the Audiophile: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
A companion piece to the similarly-named podcast, this novel adds another layer to the world of Night Vale, a fictional desert town in the South-Western U.S. The podcast, which takes the form of a radio show reporting on the mysterious events that take place in the town, has amassed a devoted cult following for its quirky characters and paranormal plots. At twelve hours, the audiobook version, narrated by Cecil Baldwin and other regulars from the podcast, could be the funny and lightly spooky soundtrack you need for your trip both to, and from, home.