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SparkNotes: Great Reads for Thanksgiving Weekend

This article was published as a feature article for SparkNotes Literature online. Click the linked titles for my full-length reviews of individual books.

Looking for something to read during the flight or long car ride to your grandmother's house this holiday weekend? Maybe you want to devour a romance or escape to a fantasy land after you've eaten but before all that tryptophan makes you drowsy. Perhaps you plan to hole up in your room with a good book while your family’s watching the big football game on TV. Whatever the case may be, you'll want to feel like the weekend will last forever – and nothing makes time stand still like getting lost in a good book.

Reading in the car has never made me carsick, but if you prefer something somewhat short for the first leg of your trip, pick up Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. Also snag a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s short stories and fairy tales, because Baltimore drew some inspiration from Andersen’s story The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Where the classic tale had toys, Mignola and Golden’s chilling novella has vampires. Set up like a classic gothic story, Baltimore brings together three characters who knew the same man and share their stories about him during one dark and stormy night. (Yes, the book begins on a cold autumn night – rather like this one, come to think of it!) Like the tin soldier in the famous story, Baltimore stands on one leg. But how did he lose the other leg, and how did he become a vampire? Who is the ballerina, and how did each of the three men gathered come to meet Captain Baltimore? This creepy story is kind of a mix between war stories and gothic classics (but this is much more approachable than Dracula or Frankenstein) plus it has some gorgeous illustrations by co-author Mike Mignola, who is famous for creating the Hellboy comic books, which led to the movies – the second of which, The Golden Army, just came out on DVD.

Let’s say now it’s Thanksgiving Day, and you woke up at a decent hour but found out that you won’t be eating the big meal until lunchtime or dinnertime. (Psst… it might be nice of you to volunteer to help out in the kitchen somehow!) Try Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway while you wait for the turkey or tofurkey or whatever to cook in the stove. After Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend Evan, he writes a song about it. He’s the lead singer in a rock band that’s fairly well-known amongst their high school classmates, but after they play that song at a gig and are ‘discovered’ by A&R guys, the band gets a record deal and the song launches to the top of the charts. It was bad enough that Evan sang about their personal lives in front of half the school at a local venue, but once the song goes national and global, Audrey’s private life goes public. Paparazzi hound her, people take pictures of her on their cell phones and beg her for an autograph, and her best friend acts as the barrier between Audrey and those who would want to bug her (like snotty classmates) or profit off of her (like reality show producers). Audrey can’t even go to work at the Scooper Dooper, an ice cream place, without being noticed. The only person she wants to notice her is James, her co-worker, the somewhat geeky guy she didn’t use to notice. Now she can’t stop thinking about him, especially since he’s the only person other than her parents (who are funny and very likable characters) and her cat (who is the size of a small house) that treats her the same way he always has. The premise made me think of the song “Hey There, Delilah” by The Plain White T’s, and the writing was very quirky. It’s a fun story that will only take you a few hours to read, so by the time you’ve finished the book, dinner might be ready.

After you’ve filled your stomach, fill your heart with This Lullaby, a novel by Sarah Dessen. Boy meets girl, boy likes girl, but girl doesn’t like him back. After watching her mother get married and divorced and married and divorced over and over again, and though she herself has had a few boyfriends, Remy doesn’t believe in love – until she meets Dexter, a guy who is confident that she is going to fall for him. Remy is setting her sights on Stanford as she transitions from high school to college and she claims that has no time for nor interest in any serious relationship, let alone one with this goofy guy. The book gets its title from a song that Remy’s absentee rock star dad wrote for her. Most of mainstream America knows the song and likes it, but Remy wishes they didn’t. She hurts whenever she hears it. Unlike the upbeat father-daughter tribute song “Molly Smiles” in the movie Uptown Girls, “This Lullaby” is about regrets and broken promises. Remy is particularly stung by the repeating lyric, “I will let you down.” No wonder she is so distrusting of others. Will Dexter get her to lower her guard, or will she push him away?

Indulge in a nice, long fantasy on Friday and Saturday. The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende is for anyone and everyone who has a vivid imagination. It’s actually a book within a book. Bastian, a boy who mourns the loss of his mother and is constantly bullied by the other boys at school, gets caught up in The NeverEnding Story, a book he “borrowed” from a store owned by a strange old man. As Bastian reads the book, he learns all about Fantastica, a land powered by the dreams and imagination of humans, and the Childlike Empress, the youthful ruler who is suffering in relation to her country, a once thriving place now being torn apart by the dark and mysterious spread of the Nothing. Then Bastian gets pulled into the story – really. When he finds himself in Fantastica, Bastian realizes that it’s up to him to save the characters and landscape he’s been reading about from the Nothing. Note: The various film adaptations call the land Fantasia, but it was Fantastica in the book. In fact, the book was originally published in German and called Die unendliche Geschichte. Ralph Manheim translated it into English. The NeverEnding Story, a true fantasy staple, is a must-have for fans of His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman. Bastian’s Story pre-dates Harry Potter’s, but it will definitely appeal to Hogwarts hopefuls, who are no strangers to long books and young heroes.

Want to sleep in late on Sunday and milk that last day of vacation? Why not curl up with a classic story that’s both romantic and tragic – something that is typically required reading for school, so your parents and teachers will totally approve, but it’s also something that you’ll truly enjoy? Give The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald your attention, and it will return the favor. Thanks to the engaging tone of the narrator, Nick, you’ll feel as if you are transported back to 1922, attending one of Gatsby’s wild parties, watching the characters risk everything just to gain something fleeting: love, money, attention. I read The Great Gatsby for an English class, and I’ve re-read it multiple times since then. This is one of my favorite books of all time.

I’m truly grateful for good books – aren’t you?
Tags: articles, books, christopher golden, classics, fitzy, gatsby, reviews, sparknotes
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