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News overload? Burrow into a book

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Nonfiction work, two novels offer welcome distractions from everyday life

If your mind is racing, caused by the drip, drip, drip of your distracting news feed, think of reading as a kind of meditation. Here's what's on the Tribune book writer's bedside table, and all these books have nothing to do with Vladimir Putin:

COURTESY PHOTO - 'Rescuing Penny Jane'"Rescuing Penny Jane" (HarperCollins, $26.99)

By Amy Sutherland

Amy Sutherland writes the popular "Bibliophiles" column for the Boston Globe newspaper. She also wrote a New York Times article that went viral about using training methods designed for porpoises on her husband. That experiment turned into a book called "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage."

For her latest book, Sutherland turns her attention to the world of rescue dogs. Stop right there, you cry? Yes, it's a tough subject for anyone with half a heart. But it won't do to bury our heads or hearts in the sand, Sutherland writes. For the sake of the dogs, we must have a look.

Suther-land has been patiently working at solving the problem of finding homes for dogs for more than 15 years, beginning with the day that she volunteered at a dog shelter in Maine. She starts by simply walking dogs who had been confined to their kennels for hours. From there, she grabs onto her subject like a dog with a bone and doesn't let go. She adopts one she calls a "frazzled, half-feral farm dog" that thoroughly tests her resolve.

Most us already know about the redemptive power of a dog's love, we've seen the bumper sticker that asks, "who rescued who?" Readers of "Rescuing Penny Jane" will learn more about why we matter to one another, and about the responsibility humans and dogs have for each other.

COURTESY PHOTO - 'A Piece of the World'"A Piece of the World" (William Morrow, $27.70)

By Christina Baker Kline

Who hasn't wondered, when gazing at the iconic American painting "Christina's World," who the girl in the painting was? What was her relationship with the painter? What goes on in the house on the hill?

The writer Christina Baker Kline (author of "Orphan Train") takes the young woman depicted in Andrew Wyeth's painting as her subject, creating a fictionalized memoir set in the farmlands of Maine. The novel provides gorgeous, complicated answers to all the questions the painting stirs, beginning with the day a young painter appears on her porch.

Kline has created a memorable and unforgettable voice for Anna Christina Olson, the girl in the field.

Of note: Christina Baker Kline will be at Powell's at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 S.W. Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 9.

COURTESY PHOTO - 'Perfect Little World'"Perfect Little World" (Ecco, $26.99)

By Kevin Wilson

The fictional characters in Kevin Wilson's book are highly sensitive, attuned to the myriad disappointments the world offers. We sort of have to take his word for it because he tells us this is so. As willing readers, we go along with this as Wilson pulls us in even as the red flags pile up.

"Perfect Little World" begins with Izzy, a new and single mom. The father is an unstable high school art teacher. Izzy eventually joins a group living experiment called the Infinite Family Project, hoping for a better start for her son and perhaps a family better than her own. The book is a follow-up to Wilson's highly acclaimed debut novel "The Family Fang," and it's getting pretty decent reviews.

The couples who join the commune are organized under the guidance of a certain Dr. Grind, a man who grew up under the microscope of famous child psychologists, the founders of the Constant Friction Method of Child Rearing. The kids at Dr. Grind's utopian village will grow up not knowing just who their biological parents are.

It's fair to wonder at this point if the book is a social satire. We all know parents who treat their children like lab experiments by adhering strictly to this or that parenting style. Here's a book that paints a picture of a group of people striving for a new idea of family. It makes us uneasy but it's also oddly reassuring. For parents who doubt themselves, winging it might be the best style of all.