Welsch, who has appeared regularly on Charles Kuralt's Sunday Morning, strings together 29 pieces, barely fictionalized, about small-town life in the Midwest. A few gems, delivered in a laconic everyday style, make up for a good deal of stereotypical material. In an introduction, Welsch reveals that he was a tenured professor of folklore at Northwestern who quit ""for an education"" and moved to a small town (fictionalized here as Centralia, Nebraska) that is ""like an extended family."" The ""narratives with at least some hint of plot"" tend to be regional and, as often as not, folklorish--little essays bandaided together with a motley assortment of eccentrics. In ""History,"" about how he found folklore, Welsch affirms his interest in ""the common songs and common stories of the common people."" The better pieces include ""The Bleaker County Juice Wars,"" about an enraged barkeep faced with card-players who sit for hours and drink only juice; ""Pankras' Dance,"" about a public TV crew--one of them beautiful--that shows up at the dance to record old-fashioned music and finds the locals too hard to handle; ""Beering the Farmers,"" about a good-for-nothing on the wagon who has a soft spot for farmers--he travels in his wagon with beer that they refuse to drink; ""Cal,"" about the personal friendship between Welsch and a Cherokee, who tells a rambling story-within-a-story about Coyote the trickster; and ""Gifts,"" a moving autobiographical account of Indian gift-giving that rises to metaphor. The rest mostly concern overworked material ice fishing, fishing in general, the wedding of a Catholic to a Lutheran, the local bar and its denizens, etc. Pleasant enough pieces, but Garrison Keillor does this sort of thing with more humor and flair.