Make yourself useful
If any of your New Year's resolutions involve getting back to basics, these books might help.
How to Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone by Yourself (Tin House Books) by Robert Paul Smith is a reissue of the charming 1958 bestseller about a nearly vanished phenomenon: kids playing with toys they make themselves, though this time the mumblety-peg and slingshot instructions come with a parental advisory about their dangers.
How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew (Ballantine Books) by Erin Bried is a compendium of clear, sensible instructions for everything from how to fold a fitted sheet or brew beer to how to balance a checkbook or deal with a problem neighbor.
Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (And How to Take Advantage of It) (Hill and Wang) by William Poundstone is a head-slap-inducing study of the psychology of pricing that answers questions we should be asking, like why we pay for texting but not for e-mails, why we docilely pay the same price when manufacturers shrink the size of cereal boxes and why leaving dollar signs off menus entices us to spend more on dinner.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor