So, the Thanksgiving holiday was complicated on many levels.
First, there was the travel, by plane or by car, that is always a hassle. And if you have children it was a hassle times 10, even if everything went according to plan because the vague crankiness of being hassled settled in regardless.
Second, there was the joy of being with one's family.
Third, there was the immense pain and suffering of being with one's family. Let me be the first to say Congratulations! You survived. And as the holidays will now come fast and furious, here are a few suggestions for preparing/surviving/thriving the coming months.
Never miss a local story.
The good news is that you shouldn't have to lock yourself in the bathroom with "stomach pains" in order to enjoy these books -- just sit right down on the couch and ignore what's going on around you. Read and enjoy:
1. "Our Dumb World" by the editors of The Onion. A parody of a world atlas that's truly offensive and wildly inappropriate -- not unlike Uncle Lester's comments at dinner.
2. Anything by David Sedaris: "Barrel Fever" "Naked," "Holidays on Ice: Stories," "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim." He's funny and I guarantee that his family is far more dysfunctional than yours. And you'll win friends among your fellow holiday revelers by reading selected passages out loud.
3. "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" by David's sister Amy Sedaris. She's funny too, and her book has pictures.
4. Anne Tyler novels are all about family. (Three in particular: "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," "The Accidental Tourist" and "Digging to America.") The big family gathering is Tyler's home territory, and there's a family dinner scene in nearly every book. She's deft at managing the complicated and fraught with a heaping helping of good will. She never offers easy answers to the questions of family but her books resonate and always please.
5. "The Epicure's Lament" by Kate Christensen. Poor Hugo Whittier, the novel's main character is trying hard to be a hermit. His family finds him at home in New York state and together they torture one another with secrets and confessions. There's a character named Bellatrix (seriously) and many memorable scenes with and about food. Oh, and cigarettes, and other vices as well. Hugo is as badly behaved as we would all like to be around our families -- so badly behaved that you'll fall in love with him even though he's a repulsive, insensitive jerk. Holidays with families, go figure.
6. Anything by Haven Kimmel -- her novels are my favorite. The newest book, "The Used World," is the best argument ever made for love defining family. And while Haven Kimmel has never, ever written a cliché, her books bring all the best ones to mind, in the best possible way. They are heartwarming, life-changing and true.
7. "Apple Pie: An American Story," by John T. Edge, known as the "Faulkner of Southern Food Writing." Combine this with any back issue of Saveur magazine and you've got the pleasure of immersing yourself in food culture while choosing from the world's best recipes. That is to say, don't just make a cherry pie, learn all about the life cycle of the cherry.
8. "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. I'm surprised every time I meet someone who hasn't already read this book because it's such a profound meditation on grief and it's had so much attention. However, if you've been plowing through "War and Peace" or "Moby-Dick," I forgive you. Read this now. It will convince you that loving someone over a long haul is worth the inevitable pain of losing him.
9. "Boone" by Robert Morgan. Even if you tend to confuse Daniel Boone with Davy Crockett or Paul Bunyan (and no one blames you, it's an honest mistake) and even if you aren't interested in history, Robert Morgan is a genius. He's a poet and novelist and brings his deep understanding of metaphor and his brilliant storytelling to the life of this complicated and fascinating frontiersman. This would be the perfect book for long-distance travel.
10. "Spill" by Michael Chitwood. These are poems that manage to examine the tiny miracles of nature while praising the most profound truths of the universe. Chitwood is imminently readable and accessible, which can't be said about all poets or poetry. And, he's a North Carolinian.