Avoiding Your Family? Dive Into These 9 Outstanding Books

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Ready for some political discussions around the Thanksgiving table? Yup, didn’t think so. Never have American dinner parties needed a new conversation topic more (and when you add family to the mix, hanging out in the Target parking lot starts sounding better and better). So if you’ve already burned through your Westworld theories by the time you finish your turkey, maybe it’s time to clear the dishes and opt for a form of time-tested escapism: the book.

Luckily, there are some literary stunners at the ready. We’ve got fiction from Colson Whitehead and Paul Beatty and Noah Hawley, and enough memoirs to last you through the airport lines and traffic all the way until your tryptophan-fueled nap. And when you’re ready for visions of an uncertain future, read Warren Ellis’ techno-thriller Normal—or try to understand our own, with J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

In Colson Whitehead’s tale of slaves escaping to freedom from the antebellum South, the trains are rickety and unpredictable, but at least they’re real; Whitehead has literalized the metaphor, and in doing so manages somehow to heighten the tragedy of slavery. As teenage slave Cora makes her way north from a Georgia plantation, she encounters a fanatical slave-catcher, several brave abolitionists, and a lot of people who are scared of change and risk. The Underground Railroad, which won this year’s National Book Award, is a beautifully imagined version of a time we should all take a moment to remember, especially in these uncertain months. —Charley Locke

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In Colson Whitehead’s tale of slaves escaping to freedom from the antebellum South, the trains are rickety and unpredictable, but at least they’re real; Whitehead has literalized the metaphor, and in doing so manages somehow to heighten the tragedy of slavery. As teenage slave Cora makes her way north from a Georgia plantation, she encounters a fanatical slave-catcher, several brave abolitionists, and a lot of people who are scared of change and risk. The Underground Railroad, which won this year’s National Book Award, is a beautifully imagined version of a time we should all take a moment to remember, especially in these uncertain months. —Charley Locke

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

Most look-back-in-anger rock memoirs are written during an artist’s twilight years, but 36-year-old Grace—the lead singer-songwriter of punk-provocateurs Against Me!—has packed a lot into such a relatively short lifespan: Not only has she endured numbing drug-binges, brittle intra-band feuds, and spirit-sucking creative crises, but a few years ago, she came out as transgender—a bold move that made her an insta-icon while also complicating her personal life. Drawn in part from Grace’s journals, Tranny is an intimate, sometimes appropriately messy account of Grace’s career as a musician and agitator, full of on-the-road indulgences and off-the-clock struggles. It’s as honest as any Against Me! tune, and just as hooky. —Brian Raftery

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Most look-back-in-anger rock memoirs are written during an artist’s twilight years, but 36-year-old Grace—the lead singer-songwriter of punk-provocateurs Against Me!—has packed a lot into such a relatively short lifespan: Not only has she endured numbing drug-binges, brittle intra-band feuds, and spirit-sucking creative crises, but a few years ago, she came out as transgender—a bold move that made her an insta-icon while also complicating her personal life. Drawn in part from Grace’s journals, Tranny is an intimate, sometimes appropriately messy account of Grace’s career as a musician and agitator, full of on-the-road indulgences and off-the-clock struggles. It’s as honest as any Against Me! tune, and just as hooky. —Brian Raftery

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

Every piece of culture feels changed by the election, but maybe no nonfiction book feels as newly relevant as J.D. Vance’s memoir. In straightforward language, Vance tells the story of his upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, a place hit hard by deindustrialization and addiction, and in many ways a synecdoche for the Rust Belt that helped elect Donald Trump. But that’s an oversimplification. Vance’s portrayal of his town and his family is loving but conflicted, and refreshingly ideologically agnostic. It’s now being sold as a window to “another” America, but it’s also a deeply personal story: grim, but warily hopeful, which feels fitting for these next four years. —Joseph Bien-Kahn

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Every piece of culture feels changed by the election, but maybe no nonfiction book feels as newly relevant as J.D. Vance’s memoir. In straightforward language, Vance tells the story of his upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, a place hit hard by deindustrialization and addiction, and in many ways a synecdoche for the Rust Belt that helped elect Donald Trump. But that’s an oversimplification. Vance’s portrayal of his town and his family is loving but conflicted, and refreshingly ideologically agnostic. It’s now being sold as a window to “another” America, but it’s also a deeply personal story: grim, but warily hopeful, which feels fitting for these next four years. —Joseph Bien-Kahn

Normal, by Warren Ellis

Most of us can cover up concerns of Earth’s eventual apocalypse with grocery lists, carpools, Christmas shopping. But for some, there’s no such escape. Warren Ellis’ “techno-thriller” goes inside Normal Head, a refuge where civil futurists and drone warfare strategists go to recover from depression and an over-reliance on technology. But when one patient disappears, leaving only a pile of bugs in his bed, the two groups have to come together to fight a common enemy. This holiday, join Ellis’ characters, and detox from your iPhone with a book. Maybe pass on the pile of bugs, though. —Charley Locke

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Most of us can cover up concerns of Earth’s eventual apocalypse with grocery lists, carpools, Christmas shopping. But for some, there’s no such escape. Warren Ellis’ “techno-thriller” goes inside Normal Head, a refuge where civil futurists and drone warfare strategists go to recover from depression and an over-reliance on technology. But when one patient disappears, leaving only a pile of bugs in his bed, the two groups have to come together to fight a common enemy. This holiday, join Ellis’ characters, and detox from your iPhone with a book. Maybe pass on the pile of bugs, though. —Charley Locke

Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick

Are you an Anna Kendrick fan? Do your eyes well up when she duets with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show? Do you sing along with her in the Pitch Perfect movies and laugh at her Twitter feed? Then you’ll like this book. It’s part memoir, part self-deprecating essay fest, and all kinds of charming. It’s probably not an essential read for non-fans, but if you enjoy the Oscar and Tony nominated actress/singer, it’s a sweet glimpse into her life (and psyche)—and the perfect light read for when you can’t arise from your food coma. —Angela Watercutter

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Are you an Anna Kendrick fan? Do your eyes well up when she duets with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show? Do you sing along with her in the Pitch Perfect movies and laugh at her Twitter feed? Then you’ll like this book. It’s part memoir, part self-deprecating essay fest, and all kinds of charming. It’s probably not an essential read for non-fans, but if you enjoy the Oscar and Tony nominated actress/singer, it’s a sweet glimpse into her life (and psyche)—and the perfect light read for when you can’t arise from your food coma. —Angela Watercutter

The Terranauts, by TC Boyle

Eight people walk into a dome in Arizona, where they won’t leave for two years. TC Boyle’s Ecosphere sounds like science fiction (or a terrible season of The Real World), but it’s based on the actual Biosphere 2 experiments that took place in Arizona in the early 1990s. In The Terranauts, Boyle combines his trademark interest in cults with a naively optimistic futurism—fans won’t be disappointed. Plus, no matter how interminable your Thanksgiving dinner feels, at least you aren’t stuck at that table until 2018. —Charley Locke

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Eight people walk into a dome in Arizona, where they won’t leave for two years. TC Boyle’s Ecosphere sounds like science fiction (or a terrible season of The Real World), but it’s based on the actual Biosphere 2 experiments that took place in Arizona in the early 1990s. In The Terranauts, Boyle combines his trademark interest in cults with a naively optimistic futurism—fans won’t be disappointed. Plus, no matter how interminable your Thanksgiving dinner feels, at least you aren’t stuck at that table until 2018. —Charley Locke

Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley

Before Hawley created the television adaptation of Fargo for FX, he was a genre novelist, and a damn good one. In this mystery, his fifth book, a private plane crashes into the Atlantic shortly after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard; the only survivors are a four-year-old son of a wealthy family, and a handyman who swam him miles back to shore. What follows is a minutely rendered examination of tragedy, celebrity, and guilt—real or conferred, by a news industry that’s often more concerned with questions than answers. —Peter Rubin

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Before Hawley created the television adaptation of Fargo for FX, he was a genre novelist, and a damn good one. In this mystery, his fifth book, a private plane crashes into the Atlantic shortly after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard; the only survivors are a four-year-old son of a wealthy family, and a handyman who swam him miles back to shore. What follows is a minutely rendered examination of tragedy, celebrity, and guilt—real or conferred, by a news industry that’s often more concerned with questions than answers. —Peter Rubin

Where Am I Now?, by Mara Wilson

Chances are you recognize Mara Wilson, but you’re not sure from where. She starred in Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Then, like most child stars, she transitioned out of Hollywood and into real life. But she’s taken advantage of social media to promote her work as a playwright and essayist, leading to this wonderful collection of nonfiction. Chapters about coping with loss, high school bullying, online harassment, and her version of fame rang true in early fall and seem even more vital now. Plus, she penned one of the best remembrances of the late Robin Williams around. —K.M. McFarland

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Chances are you recognize Mara Wilson, but you’re not sure from where. She starred in Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Then, like most child stars, she transitioned out of Hollywood and into real life. But she’s taken advantage of social media to promote her work as a playwright and essayist, leading to this wonderful collection of nonfiction. Chapters about coping with loss, high school bullying, online harassment, and her version of fame rang true in early fall and seem even more vital now. Plus, she penned one of the best remembrances of the late Robin Williams around. —K.M. McFarland

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

Fans of Beatty, whether from his poetry collections Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker Joker Deuce or novels like White Boy Shuffle and Tuff, knew he was a singular talent. With this 2015 book, which in October made him the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, he’s one step closer to becoming the household name he deserves to be. A keen satirist of race in the tradition of Ishmael Reed, Beatty sets his absurdist sights on Dickens, a crime-ridden L.A. neighborhood that also happens to be a farming community. Living there is an unnamed narrator grappling with the legacy of his dysfunctional genius father, a slave he doesn’t want (yes, in the 21st century), and a country that wants everything and nothing from him at the same time. No, there’s no easy description here—just like the narrator’s experience as a black man in America. —Peter Rubin

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Fans of Beatty, whether from his poetry collections Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker Joker Deuce or novels like White Boy Shuffle and Tuff, knew he was a singular talent. With this 2015 book, which in October made him the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, he’s one step closer to becoming the household name he deserves to be. A keen satirist of race in the tradition of Ishmael Reed, Beatty sets his absurdist sights on Dickens, a crime-ridden L.A. neighborhood that also happens to be a farming community. Living there is an unnamed narrator grappling with the legacy of his dysfunctional genius father, a slave he doesn’t want (yes, in the 21st century), and a country that wants everything and nothing from him at the same time. No, there’s no easy description here—just like the narrator’s experience as a black man in America. —Peter Rubin

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