"To be intimate with a landscape is to know its moods and contours as you would know a lover's," writes Scott Russell Sanders in Secrets of the Universe: Scenes from the Journey Home. This impressive collection of 15 essays matches the power and the scope of those in his previous volume, The Paradise of Bombs. The author, who teaches literature at Indiana University, has a special knack for bringing to the surface his most intimate feelings about family, nature, relationships between men and women, and travel abroad.

In the unforgettable opening essay, Sanders reveals the terrors and the legacies of living with an alcoholic father. All of the other pieces seem to take their cue from a quotation by Albert Einstein — "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious." Whether writing about his appreciation for the Midwest landscape, the hardships endured by ordinary Russian citizens, or the pleasure he takes in literature that responds "to land as holy as a source of meaning and energy," Sanders holds our attention by respecting the ineffable qualities of this material. Secrets of the Universe is a top-drawer collection of essays by a master of the genre.