Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico IyerWhat it is: a poignant, personal meditation on family, self, and dying as viewed within the context of Japanese culture.
What happened: After his Japanese father-in-law died, British-born, Indian American writer Pico Iyer went to Japan where his thoughts turned to aging and death as his wife carried out traditional mourning rituals.
How he coped: Iyer helped his mother-in-law (who couldn't remember her husband had died), wondered about his brother-in-law's refusal to see the family, and played ping pong with elderly friends.
Horizon by Barry LopezWhat it is: an eloquent essay collection combining nature writing, travelogue, and memoir that covers some of the award-winning author's travels (mostly while he was in his 40s and 50s) as well as his encounters with people, animals, and landscapes.
Places visited include: the Galápagos Islands, Antarctica, Australia, Kenya, and the Canadian Arctic.
Reviewers say: "Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers" (Kirkus Reviews).
Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-PalmerWhat happened: On a whim, Lara Prior-Palmer, an English teen at loose ends, registered for the Mongol Derby, a 1,000-kilometer horse race.
And then? Seven weeks later, Prior-Palmer was riding a series of 25 wild ponies across Mongolian grasslands...and became the youngest (and first-ever female) winner of the endurance competition.
Book buzz: This compelling, poetic, and honest book is already appearing on many must-read lists, including ones by Publishers Weekly, Esquire, and Entertainment Weekly.
The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van HemertFeaturing: wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert, who'd spent years working on a Ph.D., and her builder husband, both of whom needed a break after toiling away without taking time to enjoy the outdoors.
What it's about: The couple traveled 4,000 miles through vast wilderness from Washington state's Pacific rainforest to a remote part of the Alaskan Arctic via skis, rowboats, canoes, rafts, and foot.
Why you should read it: With vivid prose, Van Hemert documents the physical perils of the trip (like being stalked a bear) and contemplates her father's health troubles, her relationship with nature, and more.
The City of Falling Angels by John BerendtWhat happened: The famed Fenice Opera House in Venice dramatically burned just days before author John Berendt's arrival in 1996. Wondering if it could have been arson, Berendt talked to a variety of Venetians.
Who it's for: those who love Venice or enjoy atmospheric travelogues with fascinating people, politics, and city lore.
About the author: John Berendt is the bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which examined a shocking murder in Savannah, Georgia.
Notes From a Small Island by Bill BrysonWhat it is: a laugh-out-loud tour of the sceptred isle, led by witty American travel writer extraordinaire Bill Bryson.
What happened: In 1995, Bryson, who was planning on returning home to the United States, traveled by foot and public transport, over hill and dale, throughout his beloved adopted home of the last 20 years.
Read this next: For another American's amusing trip around England, check out Paul Theroux's The Kingdom by the Sea.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten TroostWhat it's about: When 26-year-old J. Maarten Troost's girlfriend accepted a position in the tiny island nation of Kiribati, he decided to tag along, expecting to spend the next two years in a tropical paradise.
What actually happened: Troost quickly discovered the reality of life on the atoll: suffocating heat, polluted waters, tropical diseases, and a distinct lack of modern conveniences.
Reviewers say: "a comic masterwork of travel writing and a revealing look at a culture clash" (Publishers Weekly).
An Embarrassment Of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude by Ann VanderhoofWhat happened: Ann Vanderhoof and her husband, two 40-something Toronto professionals, saved, planned, and eventually left their everyday lives to set sail for two years, visiting 16 countries and 47 islands.
Why you should read it: Armchair travelers get to experience life aboard a 42-foot sailboat in the Caribbean in this beautifully crafted book featuring vividly described landscapes, characters, events, and food (recipes included).
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