Just a little left of center.
Looking for a gift for that oddball friend or family member? You may have a holiday hit on your hands if you wrap up one of these books.
Abbi Jacobson takes a peek into the bags, pockets and wallets of celebrities, fictional heroes and various notable people in Carry This Book (Viking, $25, 144 pages, ISBN 9780735221598). Jacobson is the co-creator and star of Comedy Central's absurd and hilarious "Broad City," which follows two best friends as they clumsily navigate life in New York City. But Jacobson isn't just a comedy genius, she's also a talented illustrator. This book takes readers on an anthropological journey, using colored-pen illustrations to depict items that Jacobson imagines might be revealed when people (both real and fictional) lay their baggage on the table. Oprah carries a notepad so she can scribble down inspiring quotes (from herself), Barbie carries her NASA astronaut card, Bernie Madoff carries a few spare $4,000 pens. Jacobson labels and annotates the detritus of her subjects with wry commentary on the secret worlds that are exposed by the things we carry around.
DON'T MENTION IT
When you think of the Victorian era, do you picture well-mannered women in dramatic dresses, a la The Phantom of the Opera, perhaps reading some Charlotte Bronte? If you want to keep that vision intact, skip Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Little, Brown, $25, 320 pages, ISBN 9780316357913). If you want to discover the truth, however, follow Therese Oneill, your guide to the intimate rituals of life as a Victorian woman, from painting your face with lead for a youthful (and highly toxic) glow to the fact that turning your gloves inside out means "I hate you" and dropping your parasol means you're in love. Oneill doesn't shy away from the unsavory aspects of Victorian life, such as the excrement-filled streets, the toxic water and the scarcity of proper bathrooms. Who knew toilets (or the lack of them) could be so entertaining?
WE'RE ALL MAD HERE
Get ready to discover the real you with Psychobook: Games, Tests, Questionnaires, Histories (Princeton Architectural Press, $40, 192 pages, ISBN 9781616894924) edited by Julian Rothenstein. Within this book, you'll find a full spectrum of psychological tests, dating from the conception of psychological testing to the present day. Each test is beautifully illustrated with examples, from the famous Rorschach ink--blots to the less popular Odor Imagination Test, in which subjects were asked to tell a story after smelling various items--sour milk, for example. Feedback on the results of many of the tests is provided in the back of the book, although Psychobook warns against using personality tests as a tool for assessing mental health: The definition of what's normal is (thankfully) very flexible. However, this book can be used as a tool to dive deep into your beliefs about yourself and others. You might want to bring some friends along for the journey--although you may discover more about them than you ever wanted to know.