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SPOKEN WORD

Measured response: space

Stephen McCauley’s latest novel explores sexual and family entanglements. Stephen McCauley’s latest novel explores sexual and family entanglements. (Susan Wilson)
By Irene Muniz
Globe Correspondent / June 15, 2010

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William Powers worked on successful conservation projects in West Africa and Latin America for a decade, but upon his return to New York, his creed — living in harmony with nature — was challenged. How could he and the rest of humanity transition to more responsible ways of living?

Soon after, Powers visited his father in a Chapel Hill, N.C., hospital. There he met Dr. Jackie Benton, a local celebrity and kindred spirit who provided him with some answers. One thing led to another and she invited him to stay at her home, a 12-by-12-foot space surrounded by over 200 varieties of organic crops she cultivates.

His 40-day stay fueled his new book, “Twelve by Twelve’’ (New World Library), in which he recounts his time in Benton’s home and lays out some of her philosophies. Showering in the rain and having no electricity were part of his adventure. “There’s no idiot’s guide to living in a 12-by-12,’’ Powers said.

“It became kind of a puzzle and a riddle about how to live simply on the planet,’’ he said. “There’s an abundance of food growing outside your door, the animals in the forest, a beautiful creek. It’s not like you’re living in a cave eating roots and berries.’’

Powers discusses his book Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., www.harvard.com.

SIGNIFYING SOMETHING
Meet Richard Rossi, a man who falls into a passionate affair with Benjamin, a married father of two. He meets him for “lunch’’ at a sublet apartment and never calls after business hours. By suggesting birthday presents for Benjamin’s wife and vacation plans for the children, Richard feels he’s mitigating the damage caused by his actions. Simultaneously, his partner, Conrad, starts spending a suspicious amount of time in Ohio.

This web of lies shapes Stephen McCauley’s latest novel, “Insignificant Others’’ (Simon & Schuster). In a satirical tone, he explores the ways in which people deceive themselves about what’s important in their lives.

“One of my pleasures is observing people’s behavior and pointing out the inconsistencies that we all sort of have at the center of our lives,’’ he said.

Emphasizing that his novel is not autobiographical, McCauley defines “insignificant others’’ as members of a supporting cast who eventually become the center of people’s life stories.

Find out more Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge, www.portersquarebooks.com.

SPIRITUAL INGREDIENTS
Can food have an aftertaste of sorrow? For Rose Edelstein it does. On the eve of her ninth birthday, her mother bakes a homemade lemon-chocolate cake carrying an additional ingredient. When Rose eats a piece of the cake, she is suddenly able to taste her mother’s despair. From that day forward, she can taste the emotions of every cook in the foods they have prepared.

In Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’’ (Doubleday), Rose’s fabulist taste buds are the central conceit of the novel. Her gift allows her to taste the working conditions of citrus pickers from California to Florida, and the familial harmony in sandwiches prepared in her best friend’s home. She can even taste her mother’s infidelity in a forkful of roast beef; the “gift’’ becomes a devastating curse throughout her life.

“I know a lot of people that I think are very perceptive, so the idea of a sensitive person is familiar to me and I really like that quality,’’ said Bender of the novel’s metaphor.

Bender reads today at 7 p.m. at Newtonville Books, 296 Walnut St., Newton, www.newtonvillebooks.com.

IRENE MUNIZ