1. The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration by Alec Wilkinson. Books about polar expeditions remain hot sellers and this one by Wilkinson, a contributing editor at The New Yorker, tells the little-known story of S. A. Andrée, a Swedish aeronaut who, in 1897, attempted to fly to the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. Andrée, unlike other fur-clad adventurers of his era, did not consider himself an explorer so much as an engineer out to prove the viability of balloons as transport. The fact that we’re not all zipping around in Zeppelins probably gives you a clue as to how his expedition turned out, but in the hands of Wilkinson, the book will undoubtedly be a good read.
2. Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages by Elizabeth Little. Here’s a book that uses a different sort of road map to tell a travel story: America’s hidden pockets of unique languages. Linguist Little hits the highways to meet speakers of Basque in Nevada, Crow in Montana and Gullah in South Carolina. (We’re curious to find out if she visits Charm City to experience Baltimorese.)
3. The Stylist’s Guide to NYC by Sibella Court. The Australian interior designer and stylemaker waxes poetic about her favorite off-the-map galleries, boutiques, markets and places to eat in the Big Apple. The book itself is beautifully photographed and is organized by “loops,” mapping out finds by subject matter, like “Jewelry & Hardware,” “Haberdashery & Handmade” and “Furniture & Interiors,” among other discoveries. It’s reportedly even a good read for residents of New York itself.
4. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Your mother dies a tragic death, your family scatters and your husband decides to split. What do you do? If you’re writer Cheryl Strayed, you decide to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. Alone. A pair of hiking boots is likely the only similarity to Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” but the award-winning Strayed (“Torch”) still mixes in humor as she battles snowstorms, rattlesnakes and heals a broken spirit.
5. Paris versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities by Vahram Muratyan. Patisserie or Pastrami? Bagels or Baguettes? This book won’t tell you where to find the best bites in New York or Paris, but for lovers of graphic design— as well as those two cosmopolitan cities— it’s a very fun browse. The book is based on jet-setting graphic designer Muratyan’s popular blog of the same name, and every page illustrates in bright colors the not-so-subtle differences between the two metropolises.