Essayist Pickering’s (Deprived of Happiness, 1998, etc.) world is willfully circumscribed, mostly his family and friends (real and unreal) and the immediate landscape and what came in that day’s mail, but he knows just how to coax from the ordinary the kind of sustained nourishment that imbues life with significance. Pickering tenders here not so much 15 essays, but 15 thought processes, 15 chances to join a nimble, unbridled, and ever-suspicious mind at work. A piece may start with him mulling over the personality of the months—November, say, lending itself to contemplation and fear—which may spark a story about religious bookstores, which bows to an encounter with an old college yearbook, which is abandoned when an inchworm eating a lichen catches his attention. These oddments, notions, fancies, and observations trip on and on in graceful, tenuous association, seeming trifles that circle and then dance as Pickering celebrates the mundane, gives it credit, and reaps its abiding rewards: the nighthawk quartering a field, a slow drive with his daughter and her friends to a soccer match, a droughty season in Nova Scotia yielding a bog dry enough to explore. He’ll pursue a solemnity, pull at a gray thread until it unravels, as when he reads the gravestones of children and wonders what could have happened. But mostly he looks for the bright side, which is often provided by the good (fictional) citizens of Carthage Tenn., busy idlers all, who drop little pearls like “A dead cat will do a respectable job of keeping the rodents down.” Then there are the priceless comments of his vinegary pal Josh, who turns his flame thrower on any hint of piety and pomposity and who either is fictional or else ought to be receiving a cut of Pickering’s scant royalties: “In 1997 royalties from ten books brought me $100.25, or .000401 of what my friends assume I make.” Like good sipping whiskey, each administration of Pickering triggers a small, worthy revelation.