We all have a few delightfully odd friends or family members: your nephew who just moved back from New Zealand after 14 years herding sheep, your conspiracy-theorist cousin, your friend who’s always mastering some obscure talent. These five books might be the perfect solution to the riddle of what to get the person on your list who’s just a little . . . out there.
You were hoping to witness our ancient ancestors in action thousands of years ago. But then your time machine broke, and now you are stranded among people whose sole form of communication seems to be grunting. Thankfully, though, you have a handbook: How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler, written by bestselling author and computational linguistics expert Ryan North. And luckily for any stranded time wanderers, North is incredibly funny, so you’ll be entertained while inventing fundamental technology for your fellow, albeit less-developed, man. This guide offers everything you need to build a civilization in no time (relatively speaking, as it took our ancestors 150,000 years to figure out how to talk). North covers language invention (English is not suggested; it’s kind of a wreck), measurements and horseshoes (which allow horses to work comfortably year-round, and as North writes, putting shoes on an animal “honestly seems like one of our most adorable achievements”). Avoid the pitfalls of our ancestors with this handy guide.
© The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons / Cartoon by Victoria Roberts.
It’s OK. We know your secret. Sometimes, life gets busy, and all you have time to read in the New Yorker are the cartoons—in fact, the cartoons may be your favorite part of the famed literary magazine. We have a feeling there’s more than a few people harboring this secret, and for them, there’s The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons: A Semi-serious A-to-Z Archive, a handsome, two-volume, slip-cased collection spanning nearly 10 decades and featuring almost 3,000 cartoons from the magazine. Each was chosen for inclusion by Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker from 1997-2017. There’s no lack of humor in its format either, as it is divided alphabetically into sections such as Crash Test Dummies, Elvis, Grim Reapers, Kayaks, Octopuses, Wise Man on the Mountain and (of course) Psychiatrists.
Do you ever feel that holiday comedown, after all the presents have been unwrapped and the coffee pot is empty? It’s only 10 a.m.—what do you do with the rest of the day, and how can you keep the kids from falling under the spell of their phones? Allan Zola Kronzek has provided the answer: a little magic. In Grandpa Magic: 116 Easy Tricks, Amazing Brainteasers, and Simple Stunts to Wow the Grandkids, Kronzek shows readers how to use everyday items like straws, cards, coins, toothpicks and even dinner rolls in simple tricks and sleights of hand that are fun, easy to master and guaranteed to impress a range of ages. And don’t worry, you don’t have to have grandchildren to enjoy this book. Illustrations of Kronzek, as your genial grandpa guide, provide instructions for the tricks, and Kronzek includes riddles and brainteasers of varying degrees of difficulty as well. By dinnertime, everyone will have a few new tricks up their sleeves.
Despite being the creator and star of Comedy Central’s very funny “Broad City” with her friend Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson is a private, contemplative person, more comfortable alone than in a crowd. In her 30s, she fell in love for the first time—and then, just as suddenly, the relationship was over. She was devastated, and after struggling through the fourth season of “Broad City,” she got in her car and drove across the country to reaffirm her identity as independent and capable. In her vulnerable yet laugh-out-loud collection of essays, I Might Regret This, Jacobson shares her thoughts on love, heartbreak, insecurities, tiny coffee cups, snacks and a lot more. It’s the perfect gift for any “Broad City” fan, and it wonderfully captures Jacobson’s voice in all of its kind, slightly neurotic, tangent-prone hilarity. She also narrates the audiobook, making it ideal for someone going on their own road trip of self-discovery.
If you know a numbers or logic lover, The Riddler by Oliver Roeder, the puzzle editor for the statistics and analysis website FiveThirtyEight, was crafted for them. These puzzles aren’t for the faint of heart, though. They’ll test your geometry, logic and probability skills, and thankfully, Roeder provides thorough, entertaining answers to each puzzle. If you’re not currently working at NASA, you will probably need to think outside the box to solve these puzzles. Mind-bending questions ask you to consider the radius of a martini glass, Bayes’ theorem, the probability of a house being robbed in a town full of thieves and more. Just like a few loved ones on your gift list, The Riddler is a puzzler, indeed.