As a "cardholder in good standing" in the Charleston County Library system, I was eligible to enter the Reading Wave contest. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't paying attention and I didn't know about it. Now I do. Wait'll next year!

The way it works: Readers fill out one comment form per book. The forms are randomly drawn for weekly prizes in each library location. There also is an attractive grand prize at the end of the summer.

Out of more than 8,000 entries, the woman who won the grand prize this year had only entered once. I'm not sure exactly what this proves, but it might give hope to all entrants.

These are the books I would have put in the contest if I'd known we had a contest:

"Nobody's Fool" by Richard Russo was my favorite fiction of the summer. I know it's old. I know everyone has seen the movie. But, oldies can be goodies and this book qualifies. Richard Russo's writing flows from page to brain to heart. As with all the best authors, it's not just what he says, but how he says it. He makes me laugh out loud. His protagonist stokes my determination to be more tolerant and kind. Other favorite authors high up in my Russo category are John Irving and Robertson Davies.

"Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin was my favorite nonfiction book of the summer. In my perfect world, it would be required reading for high school students on up. (A Young Readers edition will be published in 2009.) In the movie, "Charlie Wilson's War, an otherwise ineffectual congressman (played by Tom Hanks) promotes legislation to win the shooting war in Afghanistan, but loses his battle for money to rebuild that devastated land. Enter Mortenson. In case you were assailed by doubts, this book will unequivocally convince you that one determined person can indeed make a difference. This incredibly courageous man found a straightforward, relatively inexpensive way to win the hearts and minds of the people. This book is the fascinating, inspiring story and blue print.

"The Blood of Flowers: A Novel" by Anita Amirrezvani was well worth reading. If you were intrigued by "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," this book will continue your insider's cultural education. The story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a gifted female carpet weaver and designer in 17th-century Persia.

"The God of Animals," a debut novel by Aryn Kyle, is a coming-of-age story that takes place on a horse ranch. I'm not a horse person, but I enjoyed the insights into ranch life in the American West. I also was struck by the relationship between the rich woman and the poor child. Casually, and without sacrificing anything important to herself, the woman's gifts transformed the girl's life.

Readers of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan will save whatever dollars they might have spent on hair gel. This book will stand anybody's hair on end. Readers of this book will never gain weight because they won't want to eat. Pollan reveals the waste, the politics, the absurdities, the greed, the fossil-fuel extravagance, the ethical outrages, the animal cruelty, etc., etc., of the food producers. To phrase it delicately, nutrition and your health are not their primary considerations. They aren't considerations at all. Corn is a living nightmare, "organic' does not mean "sustainable" and (hello) continue to avoid fast food.

In place of a prize, I have a platitude: Reading is a reward in itself.