All the good stuff may be waiting for you this holiday break: family, home-cooked food, and perhaps your childhood bed—but you have to get there first. And, unfortunately, many unpleasant hours of staring at taillights or the back of a seat rest might await before you can put up your feet and make the empty promise that you won't check work email for at least three hours. Naturally, you can use the time on your commute home any way you'd like—including listening to the inevitable radio repeat of "All I Want For Christmas Is You," if you can survive it—or you can catch up on some of the best books of 2015 that you may have been too swamped to get a moment to read this year. Here are eight picks from the past year that are worth of your precious downtime—and that'll make your interminable travel hours not seem so bad, whether you're taking a plane, train, or automobile.
For a Train Ride
Keeping things local? You'll need a quick hit—something you can digest on your brief trip, but absorbing enough to distract you from the crowded train car. Try the short story collection Night At The Fiestas by Kristin Valdez Quade. In her wildly overlooked debut, in which every story feels as weighty as a novel, Quade observes the details that we often pass by and creates emotionally charged moments from them. (If you only have time to read one story on your trip home, choose "The Five Wounds.")
For a Cross-Country Flight
This novel is so mesmerizing, you'll forget you have a six-hour sojourn ahead of you (and that a stranger has reclined their seat into your lap). The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips is the perfect kind of strange to keep your brain twisted into knots during the flight (think Kafka or Calvino), and the kind of thrilling that'll have you on edge until you've run out of pages to turn. You'll devour this one before wheels-down on the tarmac.
For an Annoying Layover
Next year, you'll book earlier and snag that direct flight, but this year, you need some reading material to get you through this layover. Reach for The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, in which you'll peek into the writer's personal diary. This book is all sorts of brilliant as Julavits meditates daily on intimate topics, but particularly on the passage of time—which is perfect as you await takeoff. (Bonus: If the diary format leaves you inspired, Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso is a must-read companion.)
For That Endless Flight Delay
With that gigantic red "Delayed" on the board and no end in sight, you'll need a thick read that'll take some time to chew through. Enter The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, which fits snugly in with books by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. This is a hefty read—a classic Big Russian Novel at nearly 600 pages—but it's the kind of book that'll sweep you up with its prodigious heft and wisdom.
For a Long Car Ride
The dog's in the back, the tank is full, and if someone could not remind you that you still have ten hours to drive, that'd be fantastic, thanks. Fill nine of them with the audiobook of The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, a debut novel set in a small Nigerian town that's so transporting you'll feel the highway fall away. It's impossible not to slip into the stunningly rendered drama of this family story without a second thought.
…In Stopped Traffic
The landscape is dotted with red taillights for miles, and your friends who've come along for the free ride aren't exactly the ideal passengers you hoped they'd be. This trip is going to take some extra time, so queue up the 11-hour audiobook of H Is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald to get everyone mum. This memoir of MacDonald's relationship to a vicious goshawk is almost universally beloved—and anyone in your car will adore it, too.
For a Car Ride With Teens
Remember when we were young and had the patience of saints in the car? No, we don't either. Young adult title The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh on ten-and-a-half hour audiobook will keep both you and your antsy teenage relative sane; the modernized retelling of One Thousand and One Nights will stoke your literary curiosity, and the intriguing story will be irresistible for your copilot. Plus, there's a sequel on the way (The Rose and the Dagger) for when you both inevitably get insatiably curious by its cliffhanger ending.
Then, for When You Need to Escape Your Loved Ones
You've moved mountains to make it home to be with everyone, and now that you have, the only thing you can possibly think about is how badly you'd like an hour of time to yourself. (Funny how that works, isn't it?) When you're lucky enough to sneak away, have a copy of The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams at the ready. This collection is full of stories about families—and even some that'll even make you appreciate your own more.
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