"I wonder how this book made it into your hands," Abbi Jacobson writes in the introduction to Carry This Book, out today. "You might have bought it because you are into Broad City," she suggests, and this is likely the case: Carry This Book isn't just written and illustrated by Abbi Jacobson, who, with Ilana Glazer, is the creator and star of the beloved Comedy Central series. It also feels intrinsically connected to the show. Jacobson's artwork occasionally appears on Broad City, usually as Abbi and Ilana are in mid-misadventure (Abbi accidentally sells a drawing to a racist dating site; Abbi can't get anyone to buy her picture of a tomato), but it is the focus of Carry This Book, which illustrates a world that fans of Broad City probably recognize. Carry This Book, like Broad City, is a splashy, colorful, and irreverent look at people through the most revealing lens possible: In this case, the things they carry with them through the day.
Carry This Book is a spin on the "what's in your purse" gambit of every fashion magazine you've ever read, but expanded to what Jacobson imagines both current stars and legendary figures might carry each day. Albert Einstein carries a dream journal and a packet of Mallow Cups, Judge Judy carries false eyelashes (the "Bella Donna" model), and Donald Trump sticks with a clutch of self-tanners, "huge gloves…for show," and a list of mantras ("You are a genius," "you are extremely well-endowed," "bankruptcy is the new black").
(Abbi Jacobson/Penguin Random House)
Any fan of Broad City, however, may find their favorite spreads come near the end of the book, when we get to see the colorful and chaotic contents of Abbi Abrams' and Ilana Wexler's bags (Ilana is never without her Beanie Babies price guide, while Abbi won't leave the house without her Bed Bath & Beyond coupons).
My copy of Carry This Book arrived on the day my roommates were having a party, and it became, accidentally, the night's biggest hit. People gravitated toward it, waited their turn until the next person passed it along, played to see who could be the first to name someone by the objects they carried. Carry This Book feels a lot like a picture book for adults this way, a series of visual games a little bit like Where's Waldo, but with a slightly trickier objective.
Jacobson's take on Oprah Winfrey's bag. | (Abbi Jacobson/Penguin Random House)
"Do you carry anything for good luck?" Jacobson asks in the book's final pages, as its subject shifts to the belongings of the rich and famous to the kinds of things people like you, me, Abbi, and Ilana might carry with us, and why. "Do you carry things in case of an emergency?" she continues. "Do you carry any photos? Do you carry any first aid supplies? Do you carry anything because you're superstitious? …Do you carry anything holy? Do you carry any secrets?"
Do you? Carry This Book made me think about what I carry each day, both literally and figuratively, and what someone would think of me based on my belongings alone — another game that becomes more fun to play, and more revealing, when you're an adult. Along with the usual suspects, my purse currently contains a steno pad, a glow-in-the-dark ring bought at some forgotten vending machine, and a sour apple lollipop left over from last Halloween (listen, they never go bad).
Why do I carry these objects with me? At some point they fell into my life, and they're too useful to throw away and too forgettable to use, and too small to remember until you go hunting for them. Then you pull them out, and try to figure out what they say about you. The revealing thing about belongings like these is that they can mystify even their owners: Who was this person, anyway? you ask, looking at some vending machine ring you bought once, and trying to remember why.
Abbi Jacobson is now a hero to millennials, and anyone else who finds themselves at a time in their life where Broad City speaks to them in a way other shows just can't. The series isn't about plot as much as chaos, happenstance, and joy; its characters lead messy lives, and let viewers enjoy their own messiness a little bit more. When we read the "what's in your bag?" spreads in fashion magazines, we're used to seeing the carefully curated truth: the brand-new tubes of lipstick, the immaculate designer scarf, the legendary "handful of almonds" (it is a truth universally acknowledged that every woman featured in a fashion magazine must survive, between lunch and dinner time, on "a handful of almonds" and nothing more). The idea we can't help getting from images like these is that interesting people lead immaculately organized, aesthetically perfect lives: no stains, no messes, no glow-in-the-dark rings.
Carry This Book imagines the chaotic drifts of tools, toys, and trash that even the people we admire most haul around with us: that even our heroes need to find comfort and distraction in the middle of a long day, when even the mythical "handful of almonds" won't do. Finishing Carry This Book, the one set of belongings I still wanted to see was Abbi Jacobson's own. But the book itself may tell that story better than any illustration: It's a passion project about the miniscule and forgotten objects that sometimes reveal a bigger picture. It's also, more than anything, fun: an oddball little treat to get you through the day. Carry it with you.