The All-Time Thanksgiving Bestsellers

November means the year is drawing to a close; it means that we’ve either given away all the Halloween candy in the house or are hoarding the last dregs to eat secretly when everyone else is out of the house; it means we’re already seeing Christmas announcements and decorations, and it means those resolutions about reading more are in grave peril.

Thanksgiving doesn’t get the sort of push the other holidays get, very likely because it has several disadvantages as a holiday. One, there are no gifts involved. Gifts can make any event more exciting. Two, Thanksgiving isn’t easily turned into an excuse for a raging party like Halloween. And three, Thanksgiving usually requires mingling with family members in crowded conditions, which is no one’s idea of a good time. To cap it all off, most people find themselves overpoweringly sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner, making it all but impossible to get up off the couch.

Despite these problems, Thanksgiving remains one of the most important days of the year in these parts, because it represents two profound concepts: One, the idea of pausing for a moment to say thanks, and two, the idea that for one day a year families should come together and be mindful. To get into that mindful state of mind, there’s nothing better than some Thanksgiving-themed books. You might think any such books would be for kids (and there is, in fact, a nearly-bottomless list of Thanksgiving books for kids of varying ages) but the adult bestseller world has also seen its share of books set on or at least involving Thanksgiving in a meaningful way. So if you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit this year, here are six bestselling books that make Thanksgiving the focus.

01
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An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, by Louisa May Alcott

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, by Louisa May Alcott
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, by Louisa May Alcott.

Alcott is best-known for Little Women, of course, but she was a prolific writer of short stories as well, and in her later years concentrated much of her literary output in stories intended for children. While An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving was one such story, adults will find it just as charming and compelling as Alcott’s more famous novels, as she tells the story of a struggling family with the same warm and sympathetic approach that she brought to the story of the four March sisters.

The story was adapted by The Hallmark Channel in 2010, but the adaptation is quite different from the simple story Alcott spins. In the ​original, the impoverished parents of eight children are forced to leave them on Thanksgiving to attend to their dying grandmother. The children are determined to cook Thanksgiving dinner despite having little experience in the art, and the result is a comical mess. It’s a cheerful story that will seem quaint to modern readers who have been trained to seek out the hidden miseries of all families, to await the dark twist, to see a focus on the suffering endured. Alcott’s message, however, is one of hope: This family loves each other, and even though nothing goes as planned, the children have a grand time and everything turns out for the best. It’s a heartwarming choice that will revive your flagging enthusiasm for your own family. Buy from Amazon »

02
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Thanksgiving, by Janet Evanovich

Thanksgiving, by Janet Evanovich
Thanksgiving, by Janet Evanovich.

You might be forgiven for assuming this book will involve a jewel heist or some other high-energy crime populated by wise-cracking, extremely pretty people. Evanovich has built an empire of bestselling books starring Stephanie Plum and other characters, but she started out writing romance stories under a pen name, and Thanksgiving is cheerfully in that vein. There are no crimes, no bounty hunters or jewel thieves, just a romantic and quite funny story of a woman named Megan who meets-cute a man named Pat. In short order they have a bunny and a baby (Pat’s a pediatrician) to look after, and everyone they meet assumes they’re married.

The story culminates, as you might guess, at a shared Thanksgiving, described with a loving attention to detail that will not only make you hungry, but make you impatient for your own family dinner so you can bask in a warm kitchen, a house filled with delicious smells, and people you love and rely on all around you (even if they do sometimes drive you a little crazy). In short, this best-selling book is a perfect warm-up for the holiday season. Buy from Amazon »

03
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A Patchwork Planet, by Anne Tyler

A Patchwork Planet, by Anne Tyler
A Patchwork Planet, by Anne Tyler.

Tyler, best-known for her novel The Accidental Tourist, has a thing for both holidays and meals in her stories. She also has a thing for dysfunctional characters, the sort of lovable mopes who just don’t quite fit in, who just can’t quite make things work. Barnaby Gaitlin is one such guy—at thirty years of age he’s a divorced father without a college degree or purpose in life, working as a “rent-a-back” helping elderly and agoraphobic folks clean out basements and get groceries, and still suffering recriminations from his family for a youth best described as delinquent.

Barnaby starts the story resigned to his “quota of misfortune,” but of course it wouldn’t be much of a story if nothing happened to him. The events are often hilarious, and none more so than the centerpiece of the story, a pot-luck Thanksgiving. If you’re thinking that the words “pot-luck” and “Thanksgiving” should never be combined, you are correct, and this entertaining holiday does not involve a turkey. While the book itself isn’t Thanksgiving themed, the holidays play a huge part in the story—and this is a great book to read to remind yourself that you have a lot to be thankful for. Buy from Amazon »

04
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The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote

The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote
The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote.

Truman Capote could flat-out write, and in many ways it’s a shame he spent so much of the latter part of his life being a celebrity instead of writing. The Thanksgiving Visitor is a sequel to Capote’s earlier short story A Christmas Memory, and stars the same characters. Buddy is a young boy (seven in the first story, nine in this one) whose best friend is his elderly cousin Miss Sook. This remarkable relationship is truly one of the most charming and compelling friendships committed to paper, and a testament to Capote’s talent.

Buddy is tormented by a bully named Odd Henderson, who confronts him every day on the way to school and assaults him, calling him a sissy. Miss Sook, wiser and older, invites Odd to her Thanksgiving dinner, much to Buddy’s dismay. What follows is a twisty and surprising story that does not end the way you assume it will, and which carries with it a thoughtful commentary on human nature and the way we treat each other. It’s also a reminder that Capote was a powerful storyteller as well as a gifted stylist and genre innovator—there’s nothing modern about this story, it’s just told exceptionally well. Interestingly, some of Capote’s family were upset by the story because they felt he was trying to pretend his own childhood had been worse than it actually was. Buy from Amazon »

05
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A Secret Affair, by Barbara Taylor-Bradford

A Secret Affair, by Barbara Taylor-Bradford
A Secret Affair, by Barbara Taylor-Bradford.

Bradford has sold a lot of books over the years, and the deceivingly complex setup she crafts in this bestseller is a perfect example of her success. Bill is a world-weary war correspondent in Venice to meet an old friend. Vanessa is an unhappily-married designer on her own in the Italian city. Bill and his friend invite Vanessa, as the only other American in a restaurant, to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner itself is warm and cheerful, the sort of chance gathering that only happens to you once or twice in a lifetime. Of course, it leads to the titular affair between Vanessa and Bill, but that’s hardly a spoiler, since it’s the title of the book.

Thanksgiving plays a small but pivotal role in the book, which is kind of how the holiday plays in real life. It’s just one day, but it’s often the only day of the year we see certain people, certain relatives and loved ones. As such it can have an outsize effect on the rest of our year—it sets the tone in a way no other holiday does. Certainly we can hope it doesn’t result in a lot of extramarital affairs, but it should make us all think about the people we’re with and what they mean to us. And yes, if you see someone spending Thanksgiving alone, please do invite them to join your table. Buy from Amazon »

06
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Bitter Harvest, by Susan Bowden

Bitter Harvest, by Susan Bowden
Bitter Harvest, by Susan Bowden.

A more fraught Thanksgiving can’t really be imagined. Bowden’s bestselling thriller is set in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, giving it a cultural flavor that’s slightly exotic for anyone who isn’t familiar with life there. Eleanor Tyler runs her wealthy family with rigid control—but when she starts seeing terrible things, things her family insists are hallucinations, she starts to become frightened. This motivates her to embrace the illegitimate granddaughter she’s never known, because she drove her daughter away when the pregnancy was announced—and so she invites her to Thanksgiving with a hostile and aggressive family unhappy to see her.

Bowden spins out a satisfying mystery here, but the real star is the family dynamics, and these are perfectly conveyed through the tense holiday at the core of the story. You might think your own family drama transforms Thanksgiving into a slog each year, but at least you’re not seeing glimpses of what could be your dead husband’s ghost, or discovering your beloved pet murdered in your own bed. This is the sort of novel you read before the big day in order to remind yourself how relatively lucky you are. Buy from Amazon »

Read More this T-Day

Thanksgiving should be a gentle day filled with food, appreciation, and football games. It’s also a great reminder that you’d best read faster if you want to hit your goals for the year.