Thinking outside the (gift) box
There’s always at least one puzzler on everyone’s gift list: your friend’s niece, your new in-law, your co-worker’s husband who’s coming to Christmas dinner. These four books err on the side of delightfully weird, and they’re bound to fit some oddball on your list!
(Illustration from Literally Me by Julie Houts.)
For a certain sect of young women, Julie Houts speaks—or rather, draws—the sometimes painful, always hilarious truth, and she’s gathered her truths in Literally Me. It may not be for you, but it’s definitely, literally perfect for someone you know. Houts, a designer at J. Crew and a skilled illustrator, initially found her audience on Instagram, and her clever, detailed drawings and satirical captions hit on everything a modern woman faces: nail polish decisions (Illiterate Sex Kitten or Skinny Ditz?), wine selections (hint: the pink one is the fun one), the arrival of the four horsewomen of the apocalypse at Coachella, conversations with a large, imaginary rat about your desires and fears—you know, the usual stuff. If you’ve got a smart, funny, slightly strange lady in your life, chances are she’ll find plenty to relate to in Houts’ charmingly off-kilter collection of drawings and essays.
Consider the umbrella. It’s an odd little contraption, and I’ve thoughtlessly lost more than I can count. But the umbrella has been around, in some fashion, for millennia and has shaded the domes of pharaohs and queens. The symbolic promise of an umbrella is rich for authors—just think of the metaphor possibilities!—and it makes cameo appearances in the writings of Dickens, Nietzsche and many more. Marion Rankine’s delightful Brolliology: The History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature unfurls the world of umbrellas, instilling an unexpected appreciation for these handy accessories in its readers. The book is also filled with illustrations and plenty of fascinating facts to pull out when conversation lulls—say, at a holiday dinner when you’re seated next to your wife’s boss.
LIFE’S A BEACH
John Hodgman’s Vacationland was recently listed as the #1 New Release in Maine Travel Guides on Amazon. Do not be fooled—with essays that touch on topics like proper etiquette at a rural Massachusetts trash dump, grotesque giant clams and the pain-inducing powers of Maine beaches, Vacationland is anything but a travel guide. Multitalented actor, bestselling author and former “Daily Show” correspondent Hodgman takes us along as he struggles with deep-rooted anxieties and fears about aging, fatherhood and more in various dismal New England settings. The deadpan Hodgman is an excellent writer, reminding readers of David Sedaris with his self-deprecating style of comedy as he reflects on life with a sincerity that comes close to heartbreaking, but swerves at the last moment to hit the punchline.
DO NO HARM
What’s a great way to deal with blood loss? Why, bloodletting, of course! This is just one of the many “cures” described in the entertaining catalog of terrible treatments Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. In amusing yet informative, well-researched style, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen cover the many supposed healing qualities of toxic mercury; gladiators’ blood as an epilepsy cure; the vomit-inducing toxin antimony, which would really clear out your system and was allegedly enjoyed by Captain James Cook; and the use of the melted fat of corpses as a salve in the 1700s. After perusing this book, you’ll be thankful you live in this century—and wondering what modern miracle will be considered utter quackery come the next.
This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.