Who's asking: Jen Lechner, Freeport, ME
I was going to give Grace today's question, since she is six years old today, but she didn't have one. (I'm sure she's just saving it for later.)
Jen asks this question because the Lechners have just returned from a trip to Billings. Montana is one of six states I haven't visited; I'll get there one of these days.
Billings, Montana was originally founded in 1877 as a stagecoach stop and trading post called Coulson, in the Yellowstone Valley. The Northern Pacific Railroad surveyed the area in 1882 and renamed the town Billings, after its former president, Frederick Billings.
The railroad made Billings a boom town. People said Billings "grew like magic," which led to the nickname "Magic City." With a population of approximately 90,000 people, it is the largest city in a 500-mile radius. I think of Gardiner as remote, but I'm only 45 miles from Portland; the nearest city to Billings is Sheridan, Wyoming, pop. 16,000, 132 miles away.
What I Read this Week
Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale. Shy, troubled bookseller Margaret Lea agrees to serve as biographer to the legendary novelist Vida Winter, who has never told the public anything true about her background. Miss Winter's story is mysterious and wonderful, and in deciphering it, Margaret learns life-changing truths about her own history. A wonderful, old-fashioned Gothic novel about the power of books, and deserving of all last year's hype.
Mark Haskell Smith, Salty. Mark Haskell Smith's genius is his ability to tell stories about not-very-nice people doing not-very-nice things, and have us like them, root for them, and laugh at their predicaments. Salty is the story of faded rock star Turk Henry, whose wife, Sheila, is kidnapped by pirates in Thailand. Turk's ready to do whatever he has to do to get Sheila back, but a U.S. government functionary forbids him to negotiate with terrorists, and Sheila finds herself more and more fascinated with her captor. Tremendously entertaining, unapologetically outrageous, and surprisingly touching.