Small Worlds: Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas, and Other Mortal Concerns

Small Worlds: Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas, and Other Mortal Concerns

Small Worlds: Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas, and Other Mortal Concerns

Small Worlds: Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas, and Other Mortal Concerns


For twenty years, readers of The Christian Science Monitor have enjoyed the musings of a singular writer who has brought his talent to bear on a wide range of human-interest subjects. Robert Klose has attracted fans from all walks of life, from physicians to farmers to teachers, and his unique insights on life are seasoned with gentle, often laugh-out-loud humor. The cream of Klose's columns has now been gathered in this delightful book culled largely from the more than 250 pieces written for the Monitor. Small Worlds captures his graceful prose and engaging voice in brief essays whose subjects range from the joys of small-town hardware stores and Converse sneakers to the challenges of learning a foreign language or traveling abroad. In these pieces, readers will find themselves in the company of a wordsmith who is warm, funny, and smart--a man passionate about many subjects. Within these pages are memorable stories about Klose's life: his childhood pet piranha, his love of the clarinet, his attempts to learn Polish. He shares touching moments of his experience raising adoptive sons, from his first encounter with Alyosha in a Russian orphanage--a bond sealed with a Pez dispenser--to learning to counsel six-year-old Anton about puppy love. Klose also depicts his life in Maine, where pursuit of warmth is a prime occupation and culture is best defined by a deserted Downeast beach or a pick-your-own strawberry farm. In addition to this breadth of subject matter, the wide range of forms in which Klose writes--social and cultural commentary, travel writing, humor, and more--makes these essays excellent examples for fledgling writers. Whether poignantly reflecting on the parent-child relationship or nostalgically recollecting the old-fashioned ice cream soda, Robert Klose is a writer whose voice rings true and is sure to appeal to fans of other humorists like Garrison Keillor or Jean Shepherd. Small Worlds is a deft blending of wisdom and whimsy, a celebration of the art of the essay that lovers of fine writing will take to their hearts.


In Maine it is possible to divide people into two groups: those who chill easily and those who don’t chill at all.

I fall into the former category, a significant liability in a place where the first snows frequently arrive in October and the last do not depart until April—six months of virtual winter.

The pursuit of warmth is a prime occupation in Maine. I have never lived in a place with more heating oil companies or more stores that deal in woodstoves. Despite our latitude, even solar energy companies are making a go of it here. I know of a farmer who insulated his entire house with sheep’s wool. And in a town north of my home, an ingenious man has invented a furnace that will burn anything, including old boots and Coke bottles. In this corner of the world, cold truly is the mother of invention.

Just before the recent holidays I set out on my annual drive for a good three-dollar wreath for my front door. A few miles outside of Bangor I spotted some for sale by the side of the road. The easel display stood right next to the tiniest house I had ever seen: a peel-paint, clapboard affair, its frame warped and its roof so old that moss was growing among the asphalt shingles. I picked out my wreath, knocked on the door, and in the next moment was confronted by a small, elderly woman bundled in sweaters. I looked past her and saw the one room she lived in, its far corner harboring a bulldog of a woodstove, glowing red in the joints and hissing. “How are you today?” I greeted her. A smile rose on her face. “Keeping warm,” she nodded into the collar of her outermost sweater.

I immediately felt a kinship with the wreath lady, realizing that she too was one of the chilled. I paid her the three dollars and left with my treasure.

I have often wondered why people live in cold places. The word allure is identified with the north but never with the south. It is as if there is a palpable pull from the boreal reaches of the earth and a seductively benign danger associated with “going north.” The very idea connotes risky behavior, a grappling with forces which puts an exclamation point on the act of living. E. Annie Proulx, in her novel The Shipping News, said it best when she described her main character as going north to Newfoundland “[because] he needed something to brace against.”

For those of us who have consciously chosen to live in the north it is a need, then. A need to be where every winter day is a fresh invigoration . . .

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