Thursday, November 27, 2014

Books NOT to discuss at Thanksgiving Dinner

This might be Gianna's family...or it might be from
Good Morning America's Awkward Thanksgiving Photos.
If you read one blog post today about how to survive your Thanksgiving should
probably be one written by just about anyone else. Let's say that you are joining your bookish family for turkey and such, though, but need to stay clear of awkward themes. You're entering a minefield of cranky people pissed off that the gravy and turkey aren't ready to go to the table at the same time, and the prudish aunt who's offended by every topic of any interest and is not so silently judging your life choices, and the asshole uncle who's been watching cable news all year and has many, many racist sentiments to share, and your precocious cousin who's the queen of the duckface selfie and also tight with Jesus, and yet there you are, crusading book nerd, searching for anything, ANYTHING, to discuss that won't lead to tears, screaming, or your brother live-tweeting the whole ordeal with the hashtag #shitcrazyfam. Oh yeah, and there are about four family dogs present and all are having turkey-gasms while the bird is roasting. We want you to survive the day relatively unscathed. Why? We love our fans (and those who search online for "awkward lesbian conversation" or "The Sound of Music Liesl" and find this blog).

Here you go. DO NOT offer up these books/authors as topics of conversation if you want to keep the peace. (Alternately, if you love the holiday train wreck, by all means use this list as a game plan for your day. We won't judge you.)

No, you don't want to
discuss this book or
movie with your parents. 
1. Fifty Shades of Grey. Chances are that this is the one book that multiple people present at your dinner have read (or about which they have an opinion). Now that the movie trailer is playing online and in theaters, the Fifty Shades insanity is ramping up once again, but don't fall into this trap. First, do you really want to hear your mom talk about steamy sex books? And then there's the chance that your dad also read it "just to see what the fuss was about," and though he secretly loved it, again, it's a parent talking about sex at the Thanksgiving table. And then granny wants to know what they're talking about and precocious cousin invokes the name of Jesus to offer an opinion totally based on her extensive life experience of church youth group trips to Mexico. The aunt who may have conceived precocious cousin without ever actually having copulated with asshole uncle is judging you. Also consider that your mom might utter "Oh my," and invoke her Inner Goddess when the dogs begin humping each other. There's on way your brother won't post the whole scene on the internet. Best to avoid.

2. The Colony by John Tayman. This book is a history of the leper colony on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Not only is it about leprosy and the glory of body parts sloughing off (who needs a nose?), but it's also the story of how a bunch of people only suspected of having leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Molokai even when they didn't have the disease. Pass the lumpy mashed potatoes.

3. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Maybe you should just avoid all books about infectious diseases. This one is topical in that it's about the history and threat of Ebola, but prudish aunt will not want to hear about hemorrhagic fevers while cooking that cranberry sauce. It's a really great, terrifying read, though, and I actually did read it over the course of a Christmas afternoon one year when I was a kid.

We love Ina, but she's not the one
cooking your dinner. Red flag. 
4. Anything by the Barefoot Contessa. Your food is not going to look like Ina Garten's. Your asshole uncle is not going to like that you're comparing his grocery store-bought pecan pie to the the picture of the pie in the cookbook your mom is showing your father, complete with judging and whispering. While I would love to attend an Ina-catered T-Day gathering, your relatives aren't professionals and you will struggle to swallow that dry turkey bite if you sink into a reverie for sumptuous feasts that might have been. (This advice extends to all cookbooks, except perhaps for that Guy Fieri person's because he doesn't seem particularly competent or sanitary. And now I'm checking to see if Guy Fieri is published by Penguin Random House....okay, good. He's not published by my company.)

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There's a good chance that asshole uncle dislikes prudish aunt. There's a good chance that prudish aunt wants to destroy asshole uncle's life. These people didn't start as miserable jerks. There are years of hostilities simmering and you don't want to give either of them any ideas. And let's not even start with your parents' marriage.

6. The Dinner by Herman Koch. I love this book, but A) it's dark, B) it's unsettling, C) it's all about a horrible family meal and secrets, and D) don't give the relatives any ideas.

7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Your cousin is already insufferable. Avoid books about which she's a crusader. Okay? Okay.

8. The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I love this novel and think it's a book that most people should read and discuss. It's a short, moral novel about a family court judge whose husband of 30 years has announced he wants an open marriage, and then the court case she must decide the next day. The case involves a hospital suing to administer a blood transfusion in order to save the life of a 17 year-old kid with leukemia. The kid is a Jehovah's Witness, though, and is religiously opposed and self-righteous in that way that teenagers are about their untried convictions. This is a great, great book for your reading group, but in the family Thanksgiving minefield, you're just asking for some teenage proselytizing or asshole uncle mansplaining.

9. The Song of Fire and Ice Series (Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin. Prudish aunt will not approve of the gore, or the sex, or the dragons, or the incest. Asshole uncle will not approve of you paying for HBO to watch the series.

10. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. Oh, dude, we love love love this book, and the word is that HBO is making a documentary based on the book (and hired 160 lawyers to vet everything). This is the history and expose of L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology. It's juicy stuff and full of details about Hollywood, religion, cult behavior, abuse of power, science fiction, aliens, and money. Why avoid it? A) There's a possibility of sliding down the slope of logic that suggests that if this religion is a corrupt scam, what about all of the other faiths out there? B) There's the chance that your relatives are prank people and will sign you up for the Scientologists' mailing list. Once you're on there, you can never escape. C) There's the possibility that precocious cousin converts right there at the table, or asshole uncle rails so vehemently about the sheeple and Hollywood elite liberals that he has a heart attack. You do not want to be the one asked to administer CPR to that asshole, and with all the excitement of a crisis, the dogs are probably humping again in this background. Steer clear.

Happy Thanksgiving. Good luck.

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