Hammock, easy chair, overstuffed couch, unmade bed, extremely large house pet: settle into your favorite reading spot and explore the world from home with our nonfiction-fiction pairings.
You could start by pulling out the Atlas Obscura dream road trip map and fantasy traveling your way across the world’s most mysterious, beautiful, and hidden locations, or simply thumb through the book until one of the pictures grabs you (with underwater villages, boiling rivers, floating gardens, and giant Peruvian mummies, there’s a lot to be grabbed by). Accompanied by short, snappy essays and perks like city guides, Atlas Obscura is the perfect armchair traveling book — it’s impossible to open the cover and not feel transported.
All of the weirdness and wonder that we love about Atlas Obscura for adults, but in a beautifully illustrated, adventure-themed book for children. Readers visit over 100 international locations, learning about asteroids, dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, catacombs, and much more. This is a delightful book ideal for kids outgrowing the Magic Tree House series or who really enjoy Choose Your Own Adventure novels. The fact that it imparts some geography, history, and nature lessons while entertaining kids is icing on the cake.
We promised a fictional pairing, and The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is a great, unique pick for older map-crazy kids, as well as adults who enjoy immersive, whimsical books like S and Griffin and Sabine. More an experiential read than one driven by a plot, the reader follows 12-year-old cartography genius T. S. Spivet on a solo trip east from Montana to the Smithsonian, where he’s receiving an award. Along the way, T. S. indulges in his penchant for mapping everything — conversations, clouds, wormholes — and learns that despite his meticulous attempts at documentation, the world in many ways remains inscrutable.
In Her Kitchen is a charming collection of profiles of grandmas around the world and their signature recipes. Inspired by his own nonna’s ravioli (how can you resist?), Galimberti photographed and interviewed women in Zambia, China, Sweden, Argentina, and 56 other countries, creating a rich, beautiful ode to the role grandmas play in nurturing their families and imparting cultural traditions.
Like Water for Chocolate is a family drama, a love story, and a cookbook all in one. When Tita is forbidden from marrying her love, Pedro, and is instead forced to watch her sister marry him, she pours her passion and frustration into cooking meals that have unexpected side-effects on her family. Esquivel’s classic is funny, surprising, and suitably spicy — a perfect novel for foodies.
If you haven’t read Robert Macfarlane, make this the summer that you acquaint yourself with his brilliant synthesis of nature writing, travelogue, and philosophy. In The Old Ways, Macfarlane explores the ancient walking paths of Great Britain, Spain, Palestine, and the Himalayas, observing how the paths humans have carved through the landscape for hundreds of years have shaped cultures and behaviors. A love letter to the meditative fruits of wandering on foot, The Old Ways will have you itching to take in the world, one slow, thoughtful step at a time.
The best thing about armchair travel is that it can transcend the limits of space and time. In Mo Daviau’s hilarious novel, the usual time travel concerns (What if you step on a butterfly? Should you assassinate Hitler?) are eschewed for a more important consideration: Which concert would you brave a wormhole to experience? After a concert trip goes awry, landing a character in the year 980, his friends must scramble through time to retrieve him, finding love in the process.
Not everyone knows that Maya Angelou’s seminal I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first book in a autobiographical series; All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, the fifth book in the series, covers Angelou’s years in Accra, Ghana, and explores her alternately joyous and fraught attempts to assimilate into Ghanaian society. Angelou led an incredible life, and the principal joy of All God’s Children are her stories of traveling throughout West Africa and her friendships with cultural figures like Efua Sutherland and Malcolm X. Themes of motherhood and romance also pepper the book, which finds Angelou newly free now that her son has grown and left her care.
This incredible book is not a work of fiction, but we wanted to include it because it boasts 200 years of travel writing by groundbreaking African American authors like Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. From Paris to the Arctic, explore the letters, diary entries, and memoirs of writers seeking a more hospitable home than America; adventure; career opportunities; inspiration; and more.
The world’s basically mapped out, but for many of us, the Arctic still embodies the unknown, a place of terrible beauty whose savage weather and landscape put a welcome check on the human impulse to conquer. Enter Barry Lopez’s sublime Arctic Dreams, which takes a careful look at the many features of the Arctic that summon our persistent fascination with it: the doomed explorations, the dwarfed forests, the musk oxen and narwhals, the frozen seas, northern lights, and Indigenous communities who have learned to navigate this stunning landscape.
The Terror is a retelling of the 1845 Franklin Expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. It didn’t end well, providing Simmons with ample fodder for a delightfully chilling tale of mutiny, cannibalism, monsters, and the natural perils of the Arctic.
The multiple-award-winning memoir explores Andrew X. Pham’s solo cycling trip around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam, where he was born. In Saigon, Pham discovers that his American childhood and international travels render him almost unrecognizable to the Vietnamese, who mistake him for Japanese or Korean; while in America, his Vietnamese heritage and family experience of emigrating in the wake of war creates a sense of otherness. With fascinating portraits of the many places Pham bikes across — the Mexican desert, South Korea, Japan — and thoughtful explorations of identity and displacement, Catfish and Mandala is an eye-opening fusion of memoir and travelogue.
Imagine a species of tree deep in the Amazonian rain forest with the power to grant women almost endless fertility. What would scientists and pharmaceutical companies do to get their hands on something so powerful? In Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (a reimagining of sorts of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) a female pharmacologist is sent into the Brazilian rain forest to retrieve her missing colleagues and collect data on the mysterious late-in-life fertility of the Lakashi tribeswomen. A wonderful blend of intrigue, Amazonian survival narrative (yes, there are snakes), and critique of how Western researchers and companies interfere in Indigenous cultures for scientific and monetary gain, State of Wonder is a compulsive read that’ll make you think twice about the açaí bowl you had for breakfast.