How does it get to be September again? There’s a day-job, a day-husband and a day-struggle to maintain something like balance, all while sneaking in a few good books on the side. But so many book-centric little events have been demanding my attention that I realized it was high time for an update

Here’s a random collection of some of them:

* War of the Words: John Grisham and Philip Pullman duking it out the merits of high-tone vs. low-brow literature? Can we all come to agreement that the books we love, that sit snugly next to each other on the bookshelf aren’t high or low but that elusive thing, Good Reading? Guys, quit navel-gazing and get back to writing.

* Suspending My Disbelief: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ — I don’t want to know how hard it was to film, I don’t want to admire Spike Jonze for bringing a hip auteur sensibility to a children’s classic. I just want to sit in a dark theater, crane my neck up at a gigantic screen and pretend I’m 9 again. Maybe 7. And wearing a furry suit and a crown. The visuals look fantastic — so don’t make me be an adult and admire the craftsmanship behind them. Some experiences may be able to withstand such scrutiny but some — like oh, Maurice Sendak’s king of a book — deserve the right not to be dissected but simply reveled in.

* Late to the Party: I had watched the pilot episode of HBO’s ‘True Blood’ and remember thinking, “I can do weird, but this just isn’t working.” Having lived in the South, I can appreciate a little gothic kinkiness but the show was trying soooo hard. Two seasons later, staying with friends, I sat through an episode of Season 3 and realized the humor and kink had tempered, there was a little there there. So I decided to go back to the source, Charlaine Harris’ series. Book one, ‘Dead Until Dark,’ turned out to be a surprisingly fun, sexy read. Before you know it, I was completely absorbed in the lives of Sookie the telepath and the residents and supernatural creatures of Bon Temps and Shreveport, Louisiana. Series creator Alan Ball (‘Six Feet Under’) may be just working into the groovy that Harris has established.

What really makes the books work is the fallibility of … everyone. Few people are evil incarnate. In fact most characters slip back and forth over the line of good and bad with all-too-human tendencies, even if their humanity is a previous existence. I’m thrilled for Harris who’s enjoying a literary breakout moment last seen by the likes of J.K. Rowling. She may not be at quite that pinnacle but to see a woman author have such a crossover success — featuring a smart snappy female character — is all the more reason to celebrate.

I never gasp. I’m not a gasper and I’m shocked by very little despite my best attempts to appear stunned by crass behavior and lesser tragedies. But I did gasp, out loud, as my husband drove me to work and I read on my phone’s wee screen that David Foster Wallace had died. 

It’s to be expected when someone of great literary talent dies that the New York Times will rush in to honor him. And they did, in a beautiful range of pieces by inspired and mourning writers. But what really struck me is when Entertainment Weekly devoted a double-page spread in its new issue. Despite what has to be a losing ad-space proposition, EW has always maintained its book pages. But to see them devote so much space to an artist of words is truly touching and a sign of what an artist has been lost. 

I first discovered Wallace in college. I can’t tell you as others can the first piece they read. But the interlacing symphonies of prose and footnotes, the hyper-cerebral text and goofitude, the cagey observations and the fulsome heart — it all comes together in piece after piece and it won me over from the very start. It’s like reading in 3-D. I didn’t think I would ever be able to write like him — hell, it seemed exhausting — I just wanted to read him and make everyone else read him too. And now we know how truly exhausting it was. Wallace committed suicide after battling depression at the age of 46. 

If you’ve never experienced his writing, this essay on Roger Federer is a great place to start. The New Yorker has collected links to some of his essays. Or pick up his book, ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.’

If you know someone suffering from depression or at risk for suicide, there’s help for them and for you. Call Crisislink.

There is something to be said for being able to kick off your shoes and relax in your own blog. So here I am back at it after guest-hosting the Book Maven’s blog over at Publishers Weekly. While she traipsed all over the Cape — note to Maven: where’s MY blueberry ice cream, hmm? — I got to play in a different sandbox for a couple weeks. Her usual blog suspects were very nice to strangers (read: no flaming) so here’s to hoping to more encounters soon. 

I’ve been blessed with an unusually good reading summer this year. The past year had been marked by a pretty decent dry spell for books. I just couldn’t seem to find anything that wasn’t either overhyped or underwhelming. It was like trying to buy a swimsuit when you’re five pounds overweight. You know nothing’s going to fit and it has as much to do with you as with the limits of the garments you’re trying on. 

But finally, the pounds came off and the books came pouring in. Happily, I was able to share the trove of good reads with Nanette, the sweet chic friend who’s leaving town but first wanted a list of books she needs to read once she’s settled in from her move. Here’s to hoping it’s not months later as it was here in Wormette’s home. But this summer was ripe. Herewith the list of great reads — some of which have been mentioned here before: 

* ‘Child 44‘ – Author Tom Rob Smith looks like a hardier Chris Martin and writes like a grizzled vet at the spy game. No ordinary thriller, ‘Child’ got an early round of buzz that never quite materialized into blockbuster sales. I bet that will change once the movie gets made. Openly cinematic (without the obvious casting hints of a ‘Da Vinci Code’), it tells the tale of a Russian MGB officer in the post-WWII Soviet regime. A crisis of conscious lands him in a remote outpost but also causes him to realize that a serial killer is targeting children. Smith mixes tightly paced scenes with observations that will have Sting prominently featured on the soundtrack: Russians love their children too. 

* ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society‘ – The little book that could by the little women, Aunt Mary Ann Shaffer and Niece Annie Barrows, who did. This one has charm to spare from its quirky title to its quirkier characters and its beautifully spun tale told in letters exchanged in post-WWII (are we all feeling nostalgic?) Britain, this time. A journalist stumbles into the subject of her next book — and truly the story of her life — when she begins corresponding with the inhabitants of Guernsey, the only part of the UK occupied by the Nazis. Even the hand-held size of this gem of a book delights.

* ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ – OK, so I missed Junot Diaz’s brilliant book when it won the Pulitzer but now that it’s out in paperback I can happily declare it’s even better than I hoped. A fat, geeky, Dominicano teenager, is the protagonist but the book itself tells the story of life in, out and ruled by the Dominican Republic. Hyped up and jammed with a funky street song feel, dead-on slang and mish-mash of Spanglish, it’s John Barth cross-bred with David Foster Wallace (more about him shortly) and with Diaz’s own soulful look at curses, love, booty and plantanos. 

* ‘Basic Black‘ – Cathie Black, the president of Hearst Publications (the company behind Cosmo, Oprah and Smart Money to name a very few), has a lot to say. But that doesn’t mean she wastes a word on drivel in this business memoir/guide. Becoming the first woman publisher of a national magazine might have been the easy part as she relates the trials she faced and the advice she learned along the way. Some of it could be construed as basic, yes. But knowing the value of the basics, she reminds us, is something one learns over and over again in life and in business. 

* ‘American Wife‘ – Have I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book? No. Was I dying to read it when I first heard it was a fictional interpretation of Laura’s Bush’s life? Yes. Was I burning to read it since getting completely sucked into the insanity that is this election cycle. YES-squared. There’s only so much nonfiction political coverage one can suck out of a 24/7 news cycle each day. For that reason alone, I have had to feed my habit elsewhere. Do not think for one single second, this won’t be the next book on my nightstand.

So this should give you plenty to chew on, Nanette. Here’s to a great new life in your new (old) city!

They said to thank all the booksellers of America for the up-tick in tourists lately. But truly they have all the buzz about ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ to thank. For while the gushing praise is a bit much, it’s all because this is a pretty delightful little novel causing all those bookanistas to swoon.

And make no mistake, with the end-cap displays and towering piles of Guernsey-ness littering the local Barnes & Noble, I reallyREALLY wanted to ignore it. Next think you know, the weekend’s ruined, I’m glued to the couch and having finished the last page promptly leaned over and planted one on Mr. Book Wormette with all the good spirit and satisfaction a book can generate.

Why all the to-do? ‘Guernsey’ looked like a a no-brainer for Book Wormette’s mom: Too-witty and too-independent for her own good, Juliet is a journalist in post-World War II England who trades excruciatingly charming letters with friends. When one of her used books finds its way to Guernsey she winds up in a whirlwind epistolary courtship with … an entire island’s hyper-literate citizens. 

Comparisons to ’84, Charing Cross Road’ are obvious but it shares some of the same quirky loveliness as ‘Ella Minnow Pea’ and ‘I Capture the Castle.’ In fact, if those two books had a baby, it might read very much like this one. I couldn’t be more pleased — while we don’t write letters anymore, they’re lovely to read. And If I’m going to have a book shoved down my throat, I’m always glad for it to be a book about pie.

 

A stained cookbook page wears a heart on its sleeve. Sure it’s also a sign of a less-than-tidy cook but it’s rare that a recipe used only once earns a swipe of grease or the telltale sheen of dried egg white. It’s the oft-used recipe that ends up looking like the culinary equivalent of a security blanket because that is exactly what it is. While a cookbook may prove to be a go-to guide for good recipes, a much-stained recipe is the go-to guide for a good story. 

I’ve long been convinced there’s a great book in the stories of those smears and the Times hints at it with this list of Most Stained Cookbooks. Of course Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ makes the list as does ‘The Joy of Cooking.’ The other titles are an interesting hodgepodge of specialities and preferences. While most of my faves are crinkled pages ripped from magazines, here are two I love and one that has to be included: 

* Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking – Neal was the chef behind North Carolina’s Crook’s Corner restaurant. Shrimp & Grits, Collard Greens (with ham hock) and other classic Southern dishes get explained and elevated in this must-have book. 

* Sara Moulton Cooks at Home – I used to be addicted to Moulton’s Cooking Live show in the early days of Food Network. Her cookbook here is sweetly homey, filled with family pictures and more than one recipe that I’ve been asked to share. Get it for the Vermont Apple Crisp with Maple Sauce alone. 

* Cooking Light’s Key Lime Pie – OK, this isn’t a cookbook but it is hands-down my most stained recipe. I even had it framed and hanging in my kitchen at one point. This is the pie that launched a thousand crusts, a turning point in my personal culinary history. I was seduced into making it by its cool creamy aloofness on the magazine cover. It was cool and creamy all right; but it was also tart without being sour, rich without being too decadent. And best of all? Ridiculously easy to make.

 

Books are written — and read  — for as many reasons as there are words. For fame, for entertainment, for money, for advice, for illuminating, for a laugh. For the inexplicable compulsion to say something to strangers whom you’ll never meet but who may get to know you in a profound way. 

Randy Pausch wrote a book for love, specifically for his children. He didn’t intend to write a book when he gave his last lecture at Carnegie-Mellon University after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. But the video of his lecture did what the best stories often do: It inspired the people who saw it to share it with others. Millions of others, as it turned out, thanks to YouTube and the Wall Street Journal. But a video can be time-consuming and fleeting at the same time. To really capture a moment, it takes a book. 

How powerful is Pausch’s story? My husband — whose chosen genre runs more to the business bookshelves — read it in one literary swallow. I picked it up and found it easy, conversational, earnest but free from the corniness it could’ve offered. And, yes, by its end, I was sitting on a lounger chair on a beautiful Mexican beach … gulping back snot as tears streamed down my face. For all its casual wisdom, Pausch’s fate was never uncertain. He died Friday, July 25. Here, his co-author talks about his last days and what the book meant to Pausch.

I don’t believe every book has to touch the world. But isn’t it wonderful when one knocks you over? It’s the reason I love to read, love to talk about books and mess around with words. 

P.S. As a word wonk, I love that this little volume was published by Hyperion. The house’s authors represent such a life raft of oddities. Is Dog the Bounty Hunter one of the five people Mitch Albom will meet in heaven? Who’s sexier: Candace Bushnell or Bob Newhart?  Which celebrity chef would I rather be adopted by: Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson?