"Pianos and Flowers," by Alexander McCall Smith

Every picture tells a story, right? So when the Times of London asked Alexander McCall Smith to write six fictional tales for publication in the Sunday newspaper, McCall Smith went to the Times' photo archives first, for inspiration. The photos he chose are all old black-and-white pictures from early in the past century, mysterious images of street urchins and people caught in arresting poses — head turned, or in mid-stride, or while drawing water from a well. One glorious photo shows a laughing young man on a pogo stick.

The six stories McCall Smith wrote for the Times have been gathered — along with eight others — in this warm collection. Each story began from a photo but quickly grew a life of its own, with McCall Smith imagining names, families, romances, complexities, hurt, love, entire worlds. Not every tale ends happily, but each is told wholly and satisfyingly, with even the minor characters fully formed.

"Pianos and Flowers" is further evidence of the incredibly fertile mind of McCall Smith, author of more than 100 other books.

A virtual event with McCall Smith, hosted by Next Chapter Booksellers, will take place at noon March 10. Register at bit.ly/3b8Zjir

Quarantine Reads are soothing stories to be read during fraught times. Send your recommendations, with your name and city, to books@startribune.com.