Now that we’ve got an entire wing dedicated to the bookish pursuits — EW’s Shelf Life Blog, where “every day we write the books”– there’s not as much literary chatter here on PopWatch. But since I just got back from vacation, and my primary vacation activity is nearly always reading, I’ve got a pile of recommendations… and I’m looking for something new to sink my teeth into.

This trip, I tackled a slew of non-fiction. First, John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers, a series of essays that I originally fell in love with via the New Yorker. The author rides shotgun with the men (and very occasional women) who work in “freight transportation”: 18-wheelers, trains, barges, ocean ships, even UPS. Fascinating, hilariously detailed profiles of careers and modes of transport we take for granted.

Next, Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, a.k.a. “the Pat Tillman book.” I’m a total Krakauer geek, and I always feel the need to bring at least one crushing depression-fest with me to the beach; the tale of the NFL football player who chucked it all to join the Army Rangers after Sept. 11th only to be killed by friendly fire certainly fit the bill. More than just an examination of Tillman’s unconventional heroism, it’s a sickening deconstruction of the machinations behind our country’s ongoing War on Terror.

The last book I read — and the most impactful — was Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land, in which the author sets out to discover where her trash goes. The journey starts at her local Brooklyn sanitation division, then explodes into the world-wide business of waste disposal, which seems 1) very profitable and 2) largely an exercise in staving off the inevitable. I’m glad I won’t be on the planet to see how this story ends, and I’m extra pleased with my decision not to breed at the moment — but while I’m here, I can at least try and minimize my contribution to the problem. First step: I’ve started taking my own cup to Starbucks. As my friend Sarah pointed out last night, “Yeah, but you’re still going to Starbucks.” Yes. Well, baby steps.

What about you, PopWatchers? What are you reading? What do you recommend? And what’s the last book that changed something about the way you live your life?