PUBLISHED: 3:11 PM on Wednesday, July 13, 2005
"If You Lived Here, I'd know Your Name" by Heather Lende

  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, c.2005
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, c.2005
$23.95 296 pages

People from really big towns always make me laugh. They ask why I live in a town of less than 4000 people when I could live in a big city with taxi service and bus lines and wireless web access. I point to the birds and trees, the road that meanders past the house and the deck where I plant my behind and watch it all.

Besides which, I know people here. They know me. Heather Lende "gets it", and in her new book "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name", you'll get a little taste of the small Alaska town where she lives.

Haines, Alaska is quite a ways away from rush-hour traffic. There are twenty-four hundred residents in Haines, but Lende says that a third of them leave for the winter. Everybody reads the local paper (where Lende works), and they all read it from the front page through to the classifieds. If somebody's name is missing but the phone number is in the paper, it's easy to find out who's got something to sell. You just run your finger down the list of names in the Haines section of the phone book.

There are no funeral homes in Haines. Not many people live there, so it just wouldn't pay to run one. When people die, a husband-and-wife team prepares the body, along with help from whoever wants to offer it. Lende writes the obituary for the paper, and, in the process, she learns about the people who are her neighbors.

But before you go thinking that Haines is an idyllic, Mayberry-type place, remember that it's remote - so remote that if you're sick enough, you may have to drive 4 hours to get to a doctor who can treat you. And it's cold. Fishing is the main industry, and it's a dirty, hard, physical job. The ocean can be unforgiving. And if you live in Haines, you may not be able to get mail on time, or TV at all.

But it's beautiful. Lende says it's undoubtedly the most beautiful place on earth, with mountains that can be hiked and beaches to walk and wildlife to watch.

And people who know who you are and reach out to you when you need it most.

Can I just say now that I loved this book?

Author Heather Lende has a way of making you feel like you're sitting across from her, talking over a cup of coffee, and you kind of wish you could swap tales with her. This is one of those books you relax with. The tone is easy. The stories are charming. There is adventure in here, as well as danger. Best of all, you'll fall in love with the people of Haines as you fall in love with this book.

If you live in the kind of town where you know everybody, or just wish you did, find a copy of "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name". It's a delightful book, no matter where you live.