Take heart, oh lovers of good writing. The art of the essay is not lost.

In "Only When I Laugh," Elouise Bell proves her skill in 36 short essays, most of which originally appeared in Network magazine.Bell is a professor of English at Brigham Young University. She finds humor in ward meetings, the IWY convention, growing zucchini and growing up "nice." She writes a eulogy for Algie Ballif. She writes of the simple food she remembers from her childhood. Her topics are especially meaningful for Utahns and for women.

Her tone is even-handed, often conciliatory, never mean.

"Why do women not have pockets and why should we want them?" she asks in an essay titled "Pocket Politics."

"We want them because they are freeing. They free the hands, enabling us to stride through the world unfettered. With both hands free we can pull open a heavy door with some grace and ease instead of going through a vaudeville routine. We can grab a railing or swing onto a bus. We can catch ourselves more easily if we stumble; we can shake hands or embrace someone without a juggling act. Obviously the arms are meant to swing free as the human being walks, so as to provide grace and balance. What a 15 pound handbag does to that balance we all know too well . . . .

"I am tired of putting down a good pen and then, when I miss it, spending 20 minutes hunting for it. I am tired of not having small change on me when I need it. I want equal pockets . . . .

"Do you think we could push manufacturers on the subject? Working pockets for working women, or some rallying cry like that? I say working pockets because I've had too many close encounters with ornamental pockets that immediately fall to pieces from overuse - like holding a Kleenex or a paperclip."

Even more freeing than pockets is Bell's insight. This much is clear from her writing: She is a woman who strides through the world unfettered. Unfettered and chuckling. In "Only When I Laugh," she invites us to walk with her and smile.