The GOOD Gift Guide: Non-Self-Help Books That Will Improve Your Life

5 lovely, inspiring, informative books that don’t scream “you need help.”

Under no circumstances should you ever gift someone a self-help book. But giving a present that has the end result of improving the receiver’s life? That just might be priceless. It’s a hard trick to pull off, though. We’ve selected a few nifty, new publications that happen to be both aesthetically dreamy and intellectually stimulating, all but assuring your loved one will be more creative, a better cook, more globally savvy, happier, or perhaps just the coolest person at their next party.

A Pretty, Easy Way into Mindfulness

For the harried man or woman in your life that you desperately wish would just chill the fuck out once in a while, Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe is a surprisingly subtle hint, despite the title. The brainchild of comic book artist Yumi Sakugawa, this guide provides “a hand-drawn path to inner peace.” Sakugawa’s inky illustrations are marvelously creative, rendered in a simple style that mimics the no-nonsense musings and gentle assignments she imparts to readers. As if speaking to your overbooked friend or relative directly, Sakugawa asks rhetorically, “how can we possibly feel oneness with the universe if we aren’t creating any space to really listen to what the universe is trying to tell us?” It’s an important question, posed in truly beautiful way.

For the Person Who Has and Knows Everything

Both know-it-alls and have-it-alls will be stumped by this reproduction of the famed Voynich Manuscript. The 15th-century tome, first mentioned in Central Europe in the 1600s and re-discovered in 1912, appears to depict imaginary flora, astrological symbols, potions, and anatomy. But the fine script accompanying each illustration is written in a language or cipher no codebreaker has been able to grasp in the 500-plus years since the manuscript’s creation. While there is only one authentic copy known, for a couple of benjamins you can have a hand-stitched reproduction made, right down to the velum pages and leather cover. It’s sure to spark endless cocktail chatter, tons of materialistic envy, and hours of conspiracy theory.

Learning to Cook for Veggie-loving Recipe-haters

Some people follow recipes down to the eighth-of-a-teaspoon. Others don’t, to varying degrees of success. Karen Page’s Flavor Bible is a much-lauded alternative for the seat-of-their-pants set, and this year she’s released The Vegetarian Flavor Bible for non-meat eaters as well as anyone interested in unlocking the most potential from their produce. Instead of recipes, this encyclopedia methodically and exhaustively catalogues ingredients, from sunchokes to sumac, and cross-references them with other ingredients that together create excellent flavor combinations. Pairings particularly favored by professional cooks appear in bold, and Page also includes many quotes from celebrated chefs sounding off on their favorite way to prepare leafy greens, earthy roots, and exotic fruits. In the notes for each ingredient, she also provides possible substitutes, a feature alone worth the list price.

Getting Shamelessly Creative

Alternative newspaper nerds know Lynda Barry for her long-running Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a comic strip that graced the pages of free, rabble-rousing publications like the Village Voice for decades. But others may be more familiar with her second career act, as a teacher and student of creativity, most notably at the Image Lab at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. While some may be wary of anything as vague and feel-good as learning to unlock your inner creative, Barry’s humble, funny, and funky approach has made her a sought-after speaker and professor. In her latest book, Syllabus, Barry stresses the importance of journaling by collecting her own notebooks used during the development and teaching of her popular courses at the Image Lab and the University of Wisconsin. Presented in a delightfully e-reader defying way, the collages, drawings, lesson plans, and lessons learned challenge the notion of “good” or “bad” art, focusing instead on the creative act itself, with dozens of exercises to get readers (especially teachers!) spilling the contents of their brains onto the pages of their own journals.

A Gateway to International Relations

For those who want to be informed of global events without pretending to like The Economist, consider Oxford University Press’ Atlas of the World. Updated annually since the atlas’ inception 21 years ago, the large-format book features breathtaking satellite imagery courtesy of NASA, spreads highlighting the effects of climate change, and even special designations connoting Crimea’s contested borders. Of course, there’s maps aplenty, detailed enough to make Google blush, but what will really excite the budding poli sci major or globetrotting businesswoman is Oxford’s notable “Gazetteer of Nations” with one-sheets on individual countries and their political economies. Plus, it looks great on a coffee table.

WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

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Good News

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

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A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Coal mining is on the decline, leaving many coal miners in West Virginia without jobs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says there are about 55,000 positions, and just 13,000 of those jobs are in West Virginia. The dwindling amount of work is leaving some struggling to make a living, but the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is giving those coal miners a way to find new jobs and make a supplemental income as coal mining diminishes.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trains coal miners and other low-income residents in mining communities to keep bees. Some coal miners are getting retrained to work in the tech industry, however beekeeping allows coal miners to continue to work in a job that requires a similar skill set. "The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," former coal miner James Scyphers told NPR. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

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There was once a time in Florida where you could park your boat in your front lawn, but you were SOL if you wanted to grow squash and lettuce there. However, thanks to one Miami Shores couple, that's about to change.

Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll had been growing a front yard garden for 17 years, but in 2013, Miami Shores changed its city ordinance, making the activity illegal. The new city ordinance said that backyard vegetable gardens were a-OK, but Ricketts and Carroll couldn't keep a garden in their backyard because it didn't get enough sun. So the couple could either dig up their garden or face $50 in daily fines for letting it continue to grow. The couple opted to do neither and instead, they sued the city.

Ricketts and Carroll took their case to the Florida Supreme Court. Initially, the courts sided with Miami Shores, but the fight wasn't over. Florida State Senator Rob Bradley introduced legislation preventing "a county or municipality from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties." Earlier this year, the Senate passed the bill 35-5.

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