Knopf Books for Young Readers

5 Unthankful Literary Treats for Thanksgiving Day


Are you proud of your unthankfulness? Do you loathe Thanksgiving? Do you loathe everything? If so, you may want to disgust yourself with this cornucopia of literary misery, ready-made for your disapproval. Thwarted romance, hatred of country, bullies, Billy Crystal: it’s all here. Enjoy it now: you won’t thank me later.

The Thanksgiving Visitor , Truman Capote

Is Thanksgiving secretly about revenge against bullies? Is the holiday a warmed-over charade meant to appease the biggest bully of them all? In Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor, an eight-year-old narrator gets burrs smashed on his head by the hilariously named Odd Henderson. When the narrator’s cousin invites Odd to Thanksgiving to solve the problem civilly, everything goes horribly wrong (crying, public humiliation). The urge to spread his unthankfulness caused Capote to release the article, book, and made-for-TV versions of this tale in a single month.

Horn of Plenty, Ovid

Imagine that you’re in love with someone, and then after fending off all the other suitors, Hercules comes along — “huge of limb and broad of shoulder” — not only to crush your romantic dreams, but also to rip off your bullhorn and christen it the “horn of plenty.” For ages, your embarrassment will regale pagan merrymakers who give thanks under the harvest moon.

Zebra,” C.K. Williams

One of the crankiest, most unthankful Thanksgiving poems ever written, C.K. Williams’ “Zebra” charts in reverse the thankless disillusionment of the transition from childhood to adulthood (in the face of dumb holiday celebrations).

…Isn’t everything murdered? Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers; some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Protestant Work Ethic: A Thanksgiving by Aaron Lake Smith

My favorite recent Thanksgiving narrative comes from Aaron Lake Smith at The American Reader. This hilarious and moving story is unthankful for all sorts of things: Protestantism, Billy Crystal, multiple drunken uncles. But it also recognizes that unthankfulness is paradoxically the foundation for thanksgiving.

A Thanksgiving Prayer,” William S. Burroughs

In probably the most controversial and unvarnished hatred-of-Thanksgiving statement in American letters, William S. Burroughs makes literal the sins of American history, casting aspersion over the Thanksgiving holiday from coast to coast.