When you're a kid you can entertain the thought of running away when the going gets rough - "and then they'll be sorry!" But what outlet do adults have?
Luckily for those of us past twenty a good TV series can still fill the need for escapism, without interfering with work the next day. All the better if the characters have little regard for the law and social convention.

Enter The Sons of Anarchy. Beneath the pleasant exterior of the fictional Charming, California lies a society tainted by corruption, murder and mayhem. The Sons of Anarchy or SAMCRO is a motorcycle gang with a stranglehold over the town. They have a thriving trade in gun-running and the protection racket. The police chief is in cahoots with the club, partly because of the threat of a nastier gang taking control of the town and also because the hush money is good. The morally reprehensible characters are compelling, and the series includes enough allusions to Hamlet to make you think that your liberal arts degree was really worth it.

For charming con-artists who clean up nicely, try The Riches. Wayne and Dahlia Malloy and their three children are part of a clan of Travelers. They make their living by moving from town to town pulling small-time cons. The story begins when a feud between the Malloys and another family in the clan results in the deaths of two innocent bystanders, Mr. and Mrs. Rich. Wayne Malloy, the charismatic father (deftly played by the comic Eddie Izzard hatches a plan to impersonate the Riches by moving into their brand new house in an affluent, gated community in Baton Rouge. Wayne is quickly seduced by life as a 'buffer' or non-Traveler and thrives on the adrenaline of passing as a high-powered lawyer. Dahlia (played by Minnie Driver is conflicted, believing that they will soon be caught in the lie. Watching the Malloys negotiate this alien world allows the viewer the vicarious experience of being both an insider and an outsider at the same time. A word of warning though - the series was canceled before it came to a satisfying conclusion. Still it's fun to watch the Malloy family as they struggle to reconcile their new-found wealth with loyalty to their roots. 

My brother has a copy of the Rembrandt painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son outside his office. During a conversation about the painting, he mentioned that one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, had written a book about that very painting.

Henri himself had been drawn to a copy of the painting. The original painting was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1766 and installed in The Hermitage, a museum that she founded in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through the courtesy of some friends, Henri was privileged to be allowed to spend many hours contemplating the painting. He relates how he studied the "light-enveloped embrace of the father, the son kneeling before him and the ... mysterious bystanders." He tells how he just looked and watched the interplay of light from the Hermitage window. "I was held spellbound by this gracious dance of nature and art."

Inspired by the painting and having faced a crisis in his own life's journey, Henri turned this experience into a wonderful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  
Henri observes how Rembrandt painted the two hands of blessing: one is a mother's tender loving hand, the other is a father's strong, firm hand of welcome and support. From his observations and examination of  his own life, Henri draws lessons for all of us. 

In looking at the painting, then into our own hearts, we see that we are sometimes like the prodigal son - we've run away, too. We are sometimes racked by resentment like the elder brother. And sometimes, with grace, we become the welcoming, forgiving, eager father. I've read the book twice and have only begun to scratch the surface of meaning.

And now, I've discovered Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Edited by Sue Moesteller after Henri Nouwen's death, this book is based on his teaching and writing and every bit as inspiring. 

Shane is reading Star Wars. Republic Command, Order 66, by Karen Traviss, about an average day in the life of a clone trooper.

Shane is a page at the Hollywood Library. 



Our guest blogger is Bart King, who writes humorous nonfiction for middle readers and immature adults. His greatest literary achievement is incorporating his name into the actual title of his new book: Bart’s King-Sized Book of Fun. He has over a half-million books in print, and his work has been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Australian. Oh, and Bart prefers to be thought of as a “non-award winning author” despite some small evidence to the contrary. More about Bart at

So the Spanish word for “hedgehog” is erizo—

Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. I was just working on a little project I have, namely learning Spanish. And maybe Urdu! After all, I can study 22 different languages through the Multnomah County Library website. If you’re not aware of this, the MCL has a subscription with a language education service called Mango. ¡Eso es fantastico! All you need is your library card; to take a look, just go to the MCL homepage, click on "Research" and then "Databases A-Z" and then "M" for Mango

When I’m done with my Spanish homework, it’ll be time for me to run a number of subject searches in the MCL catalog. Today I’m doing research for a humorous book for kids about evil (seriously). And I want to know what learned minds in the fields of anthropology, history, psychology and literature have to say about evil. (I’d think, “It’s bad” would pretty much cover it, but I’d better double-check to be sure.)

As much as I respect the MCL’s holdings, my work won’t be done until I consult the InterLibrary Loan link to see what titles exist in THE REST OF THE WORLD. That’s right, with ILL, I can see (and check out) the holdings of libraries in other counties, states and countries! 

You may have noticed that I haven’t tried your patience with a long list of the books I check out for pleasure reading. I think we can agree that people who do this sort of thing are insufferable show-offs. (That’s right Marc Acito, I’m talking about you!)

So let’s just say I check out a lot of books for personal reasons, and my motives for doing so are complex. For example, when the comics anthology Kramers Ergot 7 came out, it was priced beyond my shaky, arthritic grasp. So I checked it out from the library and found that my shaky, arthritic grasp was just strong enough to hang on to the volume while reading it. (And if you don’t find my motive particularly complex in the above example, let me assure you that being a cheapskate is a very nuanced state of affairs indeed.) 

If I check out a library book that I find I really love, I buy it. For example, on my nightstand are two books I checked out from the Hollywood branch and then quickly returned to the library and went out and bought:

  • Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch. This is Hornby’s memoir of growing up as a soccer fan in England during the 1980s.
  • David Mitchell, Black Swan Green. This is Mitchell’s thinly veiled memoir of growing up and listening to embarrassing music in England during the 1980s. (Spandau Ballet, anyone?)

As you can see, my reading tastes are far-reaching as long as the author provides the essential elements of good literature: Style, a rewarding subtext, and a plot about growing up in England in the 1980s.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must wrap up my Spanish studies. (What’s the right word for a baby hedgehog? I’m guessing hedgehogito, but I’d better check that…) 

The actress Patricia Neal died on August 8. She starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, A Face in the Crowd.
In any opportunity to wax on about A Face in the Crowd I tend to emphasize Neal’s co-star, Andy Griffith, who plays a lecherous, greedy, manipulative television star. Griffith’s charisma is incredible, and as we all know him so well as Sherriff Taylor it is mind-blowing to see him as Taylor’s evil twin, "Lonesome" Rhodes.

That topic exhausted, I will enthusiastically move on to the movie’s intelligent and hilarious take on television. 1957 seems awful early for such a biting and accurate indictment. Keep your eye on that rating!

But Neal’s character is the soul of the movie. She is the one who discovers and promotes "Lonesome" Rhodes, and who must destroy him. Because Rhodes is not simply crass. He is a fascist, and he plans to use his popularity to do real evil. Neal’s character is no raft borne by the tide; she is a moral creature and a true adult. And that makes A Face in the Crowd an all-too-rare treat: a movie in which a woman has world-changing power and responsibility.

When I was little, I thought jazz music was pretty awful. My step-dad, who is a huge jazz and blues fan, just couldn't get me to like it. When I went to college, I listened to a live jazz band and was hooked. Jazz encompasses so many different styles, but my favorites are the old stuff — Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc. 
For many years, I've listened to jazz compilations so that I get a little bit of everything. And nothing beats a compilation of instrumental classic jazz to relax with, do homeworkor even cook by. I'm not knocking the contemporary stuff at all. But it's just way different in sound and feel. When I was in college, I listened to Kenny G, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn and Hiroshima. They were really my introduction to contemporary jazz. It took me years later to really appreciate everything that jazz music has to offer.

It really does depend on your tastes. Thankfully there is something for everyone when it comes to jazz. As I mentioned before, I do enjoy jazz vocalists, and there are many to choose from such as Al Jarreau, who encompasses a really smooth sound with acrobatic vocals that will blow you away, to Billie Holiday, whose voice is so unique, that once you hear it, you won't forget it. If jazz music isn't something you think you're into, give it a try, and you may find yourself hooked. Why not try to listen to some Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Bob Jamesor Grover Washington, Jr.? You can find a complete list of Jazz Dd's here, or just type the artist's name in the author field in the catalog to find the library's holdings.

So why do I enjoy my jazz music so much? Because for every mood, every activity, every feeling, there is a jazz piece ready to accompany it. And that's pretty cool.

Amy is reading Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman. It's about a boy who has the gift, or curse, of being able to experience another person's pain.

Amy is a youth librarian at the Hollywood Library. 



I sat down to dinner recently and noticed something amiss. My otherwise-perfect and untouched plate of food sported an ear of corn with a shaggy crop circle in the middle of the cob about the size of a preschooler's mouth. I looked to Child the Younger, sitting to my right, and asked him if he knew what had happened. He smiled jubilantly, his baby teeth clotted with yellow kernels.  

"Sowee, Mommy."

Sorry indeed.

I have learned from parenting that there is birthed, along with the child, a never-ending list of things-- both done and undone-- for which to be sorry on both sides. This parenting thing is a project without blueprints, continually under construction, using tools that are as frequently inadequate, shoddy, missing or downright dangerous as they are right for the job. If a day on the parenting jobsite is particularly heinous, I may think of the list I have posted at my desk just to remind myself to laugh:

The Six Phases of a Project:

1. Wild Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Punishment of the Innocent
6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants

One project I managed to complete on my recent vacation was reading Brady Udall's magnificent novel The Lonely Polygamist. This is a Big Book, in both a physical and an existential sense; it is the American family writ large. Golden Richards is a big man (known to some as "Sasquatch") with three houses, four wives and twenty-eight children. He has problems. Big problems. While his lifestyle creates and magnifies difficulties, his internal struggles could belong to anyone. He attempts to keep his contracting business and his family finances afloat with a morally questionable project: his wives think the brothel he's building in Nevada is a senior center. His wives don't understand him and his children don't really know him. The story builds upon the alternating points of view of Golden, Trish (his fourth and newest wife), and Rusty (the eleven-year-old son of his third wife.) Trish is at a crossroads in her marriage while Rusty hatches a revenge plot for the bungling of his "special" birthday. At the center for each of these characters is a smoldering sun of grief blinding them in various ways to the complicated landscape. Golden grieves a lost daughter, Trish grieves a lost son, and Rusty is a ticking time bomb of grief waiting to happen. In all of this Udall manages to find the inherent humor in each situation, much of it laugh-out-loud funny. Within the mundane Udall raises Big questions, but the one that percolates through and ultimately lifts the book far above anything else I have read recently is this:

How big is love?

This is a question echoed by the deservedly popular HBO television series Big Love which I also highly recommend. Bill Henrickson is a modern-day polygamist living in suburban Salt Lake City with his three sister-wives, their numerous children and houses, and all of the complications and frustrations of his chosen lifestyle. His ties with a fundamentalist compound bring trouble, as do his business arrangements. Can one man find a way to keep it all together when forces both internal and external threaten constantly to tear it apart? Faith and love are big, but are they big enough?

In her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance Elna Baker discusses the issues that come with Big Faith. By turns utterly hilarious and painfully embarrassing, this described "Mormon Tina Fey" tells tales of what it's like to be an abstinent and religious single young woman in a city that's pretty much...not. Along the way she loses eighty pounds and takes a series of fascinating jobs ( I was entranced by her description of life as an "adoption specialist" for ridiculously expensive baby dolls at FAO Schwarz.) The heartbreak that ensues is predictable, but Baker finds the humor in each situation and manages introspection along with stories such as showing up to a Halloween dance dressed in a failed costume that makes her look, quite accidentally, like a giant part of the female anatomy.

The holds lists may be lengthy for some of these, but believe me: the love is Big. And worth the wait

I don't read romances. Nope. Not me. Now a fantasy series with a strong romantic sub-plot... that's different. And you should just let me keep telling myself that.

The Kitty Norville series is by Carrie Vaughn and book one is called Kitty and the Midnight Hour. This urban fantasy is the perfect summer lounge chair series. Each book is a quick read. According to the author there are 10 books planned, plus an anthology of Kitty Universe short stories.

Kitty Norville is a radio DJ. She hosts a midnight talk show for and about the supernatural world. In this world supernatural beings are real. At the beginning of the series magic is still fairly hidden from the public eye. Kitty was changed into a werewolf against her will. She finds the strength to accept her change and build her own pack. Outed to the public on television as a supernatural being, Kitty has to face both magical and mundane threats. The author has done an excellent job building the character: she's likable and capable, with reasonable flaws to make her interesting.Oh, and I did promise you a romance in there somewhere, didn't I? It's in there. Don't worry.

Larry just finished John McPhee's Levels of the Game and wanted another tennis read.  He is now reading the gripping  Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi.

Larry is a librarian at the Hollywood Library.




The veil of preconceptions has been removed from my eyes and I see the light:Frank Capra made some very funny movies. 
Best known for heavy-on-the-syrup fare such as It’s a Wonderful Life or Meet John Doe, Capra also made some sharp, occasionally acerbic comedies --Platinum Blonde and It Happened One Night are right up there with the best of Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges.
But the Capra movie that has really caught my imagination may be the most sentimental of all, You Can’t Take it With You.
The plot centers around the love affair between the wealthy Jimmy Stewart and the poor Jean Arthur, but the show is stolen by Arthur’s chaotic household: the perpetually pirouetting sister, the mother who happily writes plays that have no chance of being produced (the stack of completed pages held down by a kitten), the father setting off fireworks in the basement. And the soul of the movie, her Grandpa (Lionel Barrymore), providing the philosophy that guides them all. Grandpa is the antithesis of Mr. Potter (the character Barrymore played in It’s a Wonderful Life). The thing you can’t take with you is money, of course, so what’s the good of it: just do what makes you happy.
The movie ends with a rousing, anarchic rendition of ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’ played while the whole darn neighborhood watches the family dance wildly in a living room decorated only with a ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign. Corn? To quote another great, Howard Hawk’s Ball of Fire, “Right off the cob”.

I've been accused of being obsessed with England. I don't think that's entirely true because If it were, I would probably eat beans on toast for breakfast, and that's a dietary choice I just can't fathom. I will, however, read pretty much any book that's set in Britain as long as it's not too gory. Historical, mystery, contemporary, whatever - I'll read it if the place is across the pond, and I just finished two that I absolutely loved. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier tells the story of two women living in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in the early 1800s. One is Mary Anning, a young, uneducated girl who is a whiz at finding fossils which are called "curies" or curiosities by the locals. The other is Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London who is living in somewhat reduced circumstances with two of her three sisters. She is also fascinated by curies and sets out to gather her own collection that focuses on fossil fish. Tossed into the mix are characters who are also based on real people (both Mary and Elizabeth actually lived in Lyme, and Mary did discover the skeletons of several species) including members of the religious and scientific communities who debated the meaning of fossils and how they related to God's creation and intent. Extinction was a radical concept then, and many people could not accept the fact that something that once lived could no longer exist. Chevalier's research is extensive and she uses that to good effect, recreating Lyme and the time period and making those involved in the discovery and collecting of fossils, including the icthyosaur and plesiosaur, come alive. 

Anyone who has read a Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie knows that underneath the roses and quaint cottages, the English village is not always serene. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson examines the pettiness, racism and greed that exists in one village, and frames them in a romance between an elderly major and the local, lovely shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali. Mrs. Ali was born in England but her ancestry is Pakistani and so she is looked upon with some suspicion and is not fully accepted into Edgecomb St. Mary's society. I lovedMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand for lots of reasons, but I especially liked it because it follows the traditional romance form and, like the very best romance novels, also provides a thoughtful story of substance.

If you, too, have ever been called "obsessively Anglophilic", just go with it and enjoy these novels.

Colleen is reading The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne, a philosophy of life via two wheels. Colleen is a library assistant at the Hollywood Library.


Joe Pickett, game warden in the Big Horn Mountain region of Wyoming, has now been featured in 10 novels beginning with Open Season

Nowhere to Run is the newest Pickett mystery by C.J. Box.
    Wyoming setting
    Camps looted
    Tents slashed
    Elk butchered
Do the right thing
    Runner missing
    Brothers hiding
    Suspense building
    Pickett searching
    Shootout ending
    Storm coming

Is this the harbinger of things to come in the next Joe Pickett novel?

Welcome to Rachael, a new blogger for EOR. She says this about her reading interests: "I’m always reading something, usually a few too many things. My special love is science fiction written with a literary hand. I have worked for the Multnomah County Library for fifteen years, in a variety of roles. Once I was convinced that I had touched every book in Central Library, but now I see that is beyond my reach."

I am not a fan of the heat. I have a few tried and true cool-down tactics: frozen berries, lots of fans, the occasional coupe colonel. And for a chilling of the mind, books and movies that are ‘cold’. Even penguins huddled together in a blizzard (as in March of the Penguins) are an object of envy to me when the temperature is above 90.

Right now I am reading a very cold book: The Terror by Dan Simmons. It is a nautical adventure where the ships never move. They are trapped in the arctic, frozen in place in their search for the Northwest Passage. And there is something on the ice with them, a malevolent creature shaped like a polar bear but much larger and much more intelligent. 

I’m a fan of Dan Simmons’ Hugo-winning Hyperion and of Patrick O’Brian’s tales of the Royal Navy, so The Terror appeals to me on many fronts. But on a hot day, its greatest appeal is the ice that is groaning around the ships. Brrrrr!

Post-apocalypse fiction is all the rage right now. Nothing like a good ol’ world-clearing disaster to cheer you up when you’ve lost all faith in humanity. It’s important, too, to study such books and movies on a purely practical level (when psychopathic biker gangs start roaming the atom-smashed landscape of our once-green Pacific Northwest, those of us who have, for example, watched Mad Max will definitely have an advantage). And maybe post-apocalyptic fiction is just a pure, primal representation of the classic heroic journey: rags to riches, chaos to community.

At any rate, postapocalyptica seems to be everywhere lately: Justin Cronin’s The Passage has been on this summer’s bestseller lists for weeks; Mocking jay, the third book in Suzanne Collins’s crazy popular teen death-match series is set to come out in August; and two years ago, The Road by Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. All of these books are set to get made into movies, or already have been.

My favorite post-apocalyptic epic, S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire trilogy (Dies the FireThe Protector’s War, and A Meeting at Corvallis), hasn’t gotten as much attention as the above titles. Not even locally, which is a surprise since it is set in Portland, Corvallis, and the surrounding Willamette Valley. In Stirling’s imagined world, most technology suddenly ceases to function: engines and guns quit firing; computers, radios, and televisions go silent. Without any of our modern transportation network, food supplies to the cities are cut off and rioting and mayhem ensue. A sadistic ex-Medieval-studies professor takes the chance to grab power, organizing a sword-wielding army of toughs and making a stronghold in Portland’s Central Library. The books in the series follow several different bands of refugees as they 

form communities in the foothills of the Cascades, learning to be self-sufficient and mastering archery and swordsmanship for their defense against this threat from Portland. 

The different bands of survivors develop unique cultures in the decades after “the Change,” based on the personalities of their founders. One group follows Wiccan spiritual practices, another is highly militaristic. A group of young rangers, born into this future world, read salvaged copies of Tolkien books and find them more believable than the stories of the past told by their parents. These rangers make their base at the historic lodge in Silver Falls State Park, a place that they call “Mithrilwood.”

It’s really fun, page-turning stuff, and the local setting is both hilarious and also engaging and believable, written with an admirable attention 

to details of local flora and fauna. There’s a lot of action, too, and the violence is described in shocking, anatomically precise writing which took some getting used to, but ultimately made it feel even more real. It’s a series of books that I will not soon forget.

Ah, it appears that the sun has reached three hand spans past the horizon, and it’s time for me to go practice my broadsword fighting. After all, you never can be too prepared.


I'm often more pleased to find a good debut novel than I am to see another book by an author whose work I've read. It's just something about the thrill of discovery. The River Kings’ Road: A Novel of Ithelas by Liane Merciel is a low fantasy novel set in the crumbling borderlands between two not quite warring lands. This isn't a grand and epic quest with great heroes. This is a humble tale where most of the poor author-abused characters and hapless victims get to slog along in the muck and mire with the maggots, the missing teeth, the scars, the gallows trees. There's no clash of gleaming blades or well equipped armies, no tall and shiny city walls. There are murdered children, an alley brawl with cheap knives and cudgels and shabby walls of wood and stone with a spike filled muddy ditch in front of them for reinforcement.

The River Kings' Road of title is a relic of a long-ago empire of higher magic. That empire set up a system of stone roads that glow gently in the moonlight so that no traveler need ever fear the dark. Yet if anyone tries to chip off a sliver of the road, the light flickers and dies in his hand. The remaining magic is limited and comes with a price. There's a noble paladin of a god of light who commands some magic, yet must pay for his strength in unbreakable religious vows. If he breaks a vow he loses his power forever. There's another goddess that gives power in blood, pain and death. There are some barbarian tribesmen who have a little beast magic. Most people in this world go a lifetime without seeing magic. Given some of the darker magic in this world they should probably be glad of it. Even the kinder magics have a price. A desperate mother who leaves her baby on the steps of one of the temples of light gives up any hope of that god smiling on her again. A lifetime's worth of hope and luck must be forfeited to have your baby raised as a temple orphan, ensuring him enough to eat, an education, and a chance at being a priest someday. Only the most desperate pay that price.

There's a "knight" who appears to have gained his status not by birth or training, but because he's a strong fighter and a lord somewhere gave him a medallion. He's really just a mercenary who swore an oath to serve for a term of a few years. His lord is assassinated by treachery and dark magic, along with the lord's wife and all the inhabitants of the village where they were staying. The knight survives the initial attack and a mortally wounded serving maid hands him his lord's infant son. The knight manages to escape the village with the baby, fleeing the unnatural bloodmist and the screams of the doomed. He finds a woman of the village in the woods with her baby boy and takes the two survivors along with him as a wet nurse for the infant heir.

The author has set up an interesting world. It's the standard medieval Europe-like setting without the common cleaning up of life and surrounds to make it more palatable and familiar to the modern reader. It's a broad enough world that I can see the author using the setting for many more stories. I thought she also did very well with both her heroes and villains. I kept turning pages because I really wanted to see what happened next. Hopefully this author has another book in the works - I'd happily read another.

Summer! Finally! Do you have more time on your hands than you have books lined up to read? I envy you. And you should be sure to check out our webpage where we have assembled links to summer read picks by a variety of sources (including, among others, Oprah!)
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney would be a great choice for your summer reading. In language as stark and beautiful as the snowy Canadian forests that it describes, Penney tells a story of a murder in 1867 and the intrigue and adventure that ensues. I wanted to read it as fast as I could to find out what happens next (it's definitely a page-turner), but at the same time I wanted to read it slowly and deeply, to savor the characters and place. And did I mention that there's lots of snow? A literary slurpee for the hot days ahead.

Dumped in the desert,

American Dream in flames. What happened, Zillers?

Model Home by Eric Puchner



Often as I am driving through the countryside passing small villages and towns I wonder, 'who lives here? What do they do for work? What do they do with their time?' You might think that my reaction sounds like the snobbishness of a city dweller, but I actually spent the first 20 years of my life in a very small place - one that didn't even merit the title of village, the sign at the edge reading "hamlet with a heart."

Many authors have made their dinner out of small, seemingly sleepy places where, under the surface, the inhabitants are living lives of turmoil, tragedy and passion. Alice Munro is a master of this genre. In Lives of Girls and Women she writes of people who seem to be living upright and staid lives, all the while hiding "deep caves paved over with kitchen linoleum." Other authors place their characters in barren and hard-scrabble places, an ideal stage for pathos and emotional intrigue. Kent Haruf's novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado and focus on the emotional lives of people struggling to find meaning in their lives. A recent Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout recounts the story of a woman living in small-town Maine through a series of short vignettes, each examining a period in her life. 

Lately I'm very much intrigued by the people of Words, Wisconsin, as described by David Rhodes in his novel Driftless. Olivia is a strong adherent to the principles of her church and knows the bible backwards and forwards as a result of being wheel-chair bound. She tyrannizes her sister Violet who spends her days in good works and in taking care of her sister. Their pastor, Winnifred, has spent her life trying to overcome the loss of her mother by looking for grace within the church. Graham and Cora Shotwell are in the fight of their lives with a corrupt dairy co-op. And July Montgomery is the glue that holds the community together, though one would never think it from his taciturn and understated manner.

For me, the joy of reading fiction is to indulge my curiosity, or some might say, nosiness.These stories of intersecting lives give us the pleasure of snooping into people's affairs without offending anyone. And the next time I drive through a small town, I'll be looking with fresh eyes.