Best Illustrated Books

by Amy Azzarito

One of my favorite things about fall is the new crop of books out from publishers. And today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite recently (or soon to be) released illustrated books. These are all books that you’ll keep on your coffee table and keep coming back to – from the stories behind tattoos to the real story of Moby Dick, to a chronicle of untranslatable words, there’s a little something for everyone. So pour yourself a cup of tea, get cozy with a sweater and get reading.  –Amy

In Lost in Translation, Ella Frances Sanders illustrated more than fifty words that don’t have direct English translations. For example, did you know that the Japanese language has a word for gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking about anything specific? Or that Tulu (spoken in parts of Southwestern India) has a word for the mark left on the skin by wearing something tight? Or that there’s a Finnish word for the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to rest? This book is as sweet as it sounds. *Our own Anne Ditmeyer keeps a section of her blog, Prêt à Voyager , devoted to funny translations and untranslatable words/phrases in the French language.

See more book recommendations after the jump!


Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them (available for pre-order now) by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton, aims to satisfy that secret curiosity we have about other people’s tattoos – the ones we see and the ones we don’t. From big names like writers Cheryl Strayed, Tao Lin and Roxane Gay to the rockers in the bands Korn, Otep and Five Finger Death Punch, to the tattoos of ordinary people, each ink drawing is a secret story. What I love most about this book is that it doesn’t cover just huge sleeves and complicated tattoos, it also honors the newly popular (again) art of poke-and-stick tattoos. Wendy has a follow-up planned about chefs/foodies and their tattoos. Stay tuned!


The idea of this book blows my mind. Like many, I read Moby Dick in high school, but I never realized that Herman Melville based his famous story on front-page news stories of a white sperm whale’s attacks on whaling ships. That whale was named Mocha Dick, but 12 years later, he would be immortalized in fiction as Moby-Dick.  Mocha Dick: The Legend and Fury tells the story of that whale who was the real-life inspiration for Moby Dick.
In Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: Portraits of Fifty Famous Folks & All Their Weird Stuff, artist James Gulliver Hancock (our old office neighbor at The Pencil Factory) illustrates historical icons in a fun, infographic style – surrounded by their possessions, baggage, favorite locations and personality quirks. You’re guaranteed to come away with new facts to cover any lull in cocktail party conversation –  Abraham Lincoln started Thanksgiving? Albert Einstein hated Scrabble and didn’t believe in marriage? Take that awkward party silences!


There was no way I could round up new illustrated books and not include My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman (available for pre-order). In it, Maira reveals some of the special and significant objects in her own life (like pants belonging to the Italian conductor, Tosacanini!) and juxtaposes them with favorites from the Copper-Hewitt Museum (my alma mater!). (She picked more than 50 items from the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt for an exhibition that will open alongside the museum’s reopening in December.)

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