This piece about Mother's Day books was not written as a consumer guide. If you're still looking for a gift as you read this, you're in big trouble.

No, this is simply a reflective piece, a Mother's Day book feature written to say, "There's no such thing as a Mother's Day book."Women in 1998 have such an array of occupations, histories, dreams and points of view, that every book is a Mother's Day book. For somebody. You just have to match the book with the mother.

And books for women these days are more honest.

The days when publishers pumped out books for women full of easy assurances and sweet optimism are fading. We're now in an era of dry-eyed reading and hard-won faith.

For one thing, mothers like solid information.

Women who enjoy nature, for instance, turn to books like the Time/Life hardback "Weather." With El Nino running amok, weather's a hot topic - or a cold topic, depending on your longitude.

And serious "earth mothers" - of the gardening variety - go for "The Encyclopedia of Gardening," the latest "all you'll ever need to know" volume from the American Heritage Society and D.K. Publishing. At $59.95 it's hardly a steal, though you may never need another gardening book.

My guess is a lot of mothers will be opening Sue Grafton's latest whodunit "N is for Noose" as a gift today. For light reading, Grafton's got a lot to offer. She began with "A is for Alibi" and has slowly worked her way through the alphabet. In this, her 14th tale, the California mystery writer has honed her ability to plot to a fine edge.

And in the world of poetry, Edna St. Vincent Millay is history. For emotion, women - and men - deserve Maya Angelou's "Complete, Collected Poems" from Random House. In her verse, Angelou shows that she has sunk lower in life than most people, but she has also risen higher. Her taut, intelligent poems are like rungs on Jacob's ladder, taking the poet - and the reader - from the depths to the heights.

And even the inspirational volumes this year are packing a punch. Mothers know the deepest devotions are found after difficult journeys. For such reasons, mothers who got Marilyn Arnold's new novel "Desert Song," new from Covenant, got a good one. Arnold, a celebrated LDS scholar, presents a heroine who desperately needs to come home to her heart. The path back, however, is treacherous.

"An Angel in the Making," the autobiographical story by Frances Gomez, works the same way. It is not a book of easy assurances, but a book about finding perspective after loss.

And reality also dominates "A Widow for One Year," the new novel by John Irving. Irving returns to the theme of a family coping with tragedy. Despite his success, Irving has never stopped writing, and writing well. The publisher calls the book "richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing." Critics have been calling it one of Irving's best.

In the end, Mother's Day books have changed because mothers have changed. Frills, bows and sweetness seem to be giving way to books full of facts, honesty and realism.

Many mothers today may still hold to their optimism, but it's an optimism tempered with understanding.