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Discover: The Books We’re Giving Thanks For

The whole “giving thanks” part of Thanksgiving rarely gets the attention it deserves. Too often it’s wedged into an already overlong family meal by your aunt Maude, who insists on putting everyone around the table on the spot, or it’s co-opted by jewelry commercials that are prematurely, maddeningly, already hustling Christmas gifts. Under those circumstances, it can be hard to get into the thankful spirit. But in a holiday based on a questionable colonial history and a remarkably unhealthy binge-and-gorge cycle, the reminder to take full stock of all you’ve got going for you is pretty special, and worth observing.

Books are something we are always, always thankful for. Over the years, we have found books that have changed our worldview, opened doors and reminded us that no matter what we’re going through, we’re not alone. When you have a moment to yourself this week, maybe while traveling to the aforementioned family meal or while reveling in the quiet afterward, queue up a book and try exercising some gratitude. Need some inspiration? This year, we’re giving thanks for:

A New Silver Age of Reason

  • The age-old struggle between brainiac fact-huggers and go-wit-yer-gut soothsayers rages on, but I'm grateful to find that, at least right now, the good guys appear to be winning. Pundits who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, predicted a Romney landslide are still licking their wounds after on-air meltdowns, while author/New York Times blogger/sabermetric poll interpreter Nate Silver is taking his best-selling The Signal and the Noise on a victory book tour. He... deserves it, and we deserve him, after keeping our heads as elderly frat-boy candidates lined up to volunteer dubious factoids about reproduction, climate change, and other indisputable points of science. I'm not saying we're definitely in a new age of enlightenment, but Silver's entertaining dissections – of punditry, yes, but also of chess, poker, earthquake analysis, et al. – have given me hope that logic is making some real headway. Of course, I might be deluding myself. People keep on letting me down. But not you, statistics. You've always got my back. —Pat Rapa

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Ambitious Parents

  • My mother tried to read me Louisa May Alcott's Little Women when I was two. I remember it, vaguely. Her edition was from her girlhood, one of those volumes nestled in a cardboard slipcover, color plates each lined with a translucent sheet. I was too little then for a chapter book, let alone the story of the four March sisters and their patient Marmee. But I eventually read Little Women, then repeatedly... read it through the years – even in a college Women's Studies seminar; my shaven-headed classmates were surprised by how much they liked it.

    Did Alcott inspire my love of reading, my desire to be a writer? Probably. What about having a mother who thought her toddler needed Little Women? That pushed me over the edge. Now I have my own two-year-old daughter. She'll sit patiently enough for Where the Wild Things Are, but I can't imagine making it through a page of Alcott. I have my mother's old edition on my shelf, though. I'll try soon. —Elizabeth Isadora Gold

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Happy Endings

  • On the one hand, Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt (first published pseudonymously in 1952) has all the trappings of a pre-Stonewall lesbian pulp novel. There's plenty of abjection, discrimination, and closeted identity to go around, as ingenue shopgirl Therese falls head over heels for wealthy, married Carol. Twenty-first-century queer readers can be grateful that, today, we can assign names to our desires and speak those names out loud, and that coming... out might not result in being spurned (or worse) by our loved ones. Here's the other thing, though, and it comes with a spoiler alert: The Price of Salt actually has a happy ending. At a time when the gay protagonists in most novels ended up alone or dead, Highsmith's choice to end her novel with Therese and Carol together and in love was a brave and radical act. And that's something to be really grateful for. —Sara Jaffe

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Heroines Without Borders

  • The year I was nine, I stumbled upon a copy of Dealing with Dragons at the local library. I started reading it that afternoon and didn't stop until I'd hit the last page. The story was wry, charming and hilarious: a delightful, rollicking adventure about a beautiful princess who is totally exasperated by being a beautiful princess – she'd rather learn Latin and magic and cook cherries jubilee. So she runs away... and arranges to become the official cook and librarian for a local dragon; an arrangement that would have worked out perfectly if only she didn't keep getting bothered by princes determined to "rescue" her, and if only there didn't also seem to be evil, oily wizards wreaking havoc everywhere with nefarious plans…Before I had the words to know why I was grateful, I was relieved to be able to spend hours lost in a fantasy adventure land where the princess was no distressed damsel, but rather a smart, strong, kickass heroine. Twenty-plus years and hundreds of re-reads later, I'm still thankful. —Jess Wilson

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Quiet Acts of Humanity

  • Whenever I read George Eliot, I come away feeling refreshed and improved as a person. She has helped me reckon with issues that have loomed large in my life, as well as spiritual quandaries that I scarcely recognized before her penetrating insights brought them into view. Give this outstanding audio recording of her most complete, accessible book an hour of your time and you will be hooked by the naive, youthful Dorothea's... foolish decision to marry the aging Casaubon. Contrasting this ill-fated marriage, Eliot gives us the upwardly mobile Lydgate and his attempt to make a wife out of the beautiful but utterly materialistic Rosamond. Rounding out the cast of main characters is the plucky Will Ladislaw, whose maturation over the course of the book must be one of the most satisfying coming-of-age stories ever told.
    What Middlemarch makes me most grateful for is its willingness to find the value in the most prosaic of lives – the title isn't Middlemarchfor nothing. Eliot's ability to make their reckonings feel substantial despite the smallness of their town and the anonymity of their struggles drives home the book's core insight: that the battle to live a good life is important, no matter who wages it. —Scott Esposito

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Families, Real and Adopted

  • When Nora Ephron passed away in June, her friends spoke of her romantic view of life, as inspirational as her storied career. Among her essay collections (all worth seeking out, as well as her novel, Heartburn), I Feel Bad About My Neck boasts enough bon mots to fill a Zabar's shopping cart. She exults in favorite cookbooks, apartment living, the light on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (better than the West... Side, she says). Like many, I first discovered Nora through her films – autumnal postcards to New York City – and in my years spent living there, I thought of Nora when visiting little Village bakeries or passing the landmark Apthorp condominium building, which she writes about in "Moving On." Listening to Nora narrate, with her warm, knowing voice, she reminds me of a beloved aunt visiting for the holiday, who can't wait to tell you about a great book or delicious new dish. Every conversation with her is a gift. —Kate Silver

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