Why give a book for Christmas? Two of the best reasons are that books fit the budget (starting as low as $10 for a quality paperback) and because they say to the recipient, "I think you're smart." Of course, you can double the compliment by giving a book on books, like -- say -- "BETWEEN THE COVERS: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures." Hewing to that theme, the Babes choose "books on books" as the theme this month for their WMNF radio show. In addition to their own book, these are the ones in the category that they name as the year's top choices:
1. "How Fiction Works," by James Wood. At a time when the habit of reading so-called serious literature has dipped, Wood neatly offers a window into how it works. No secret code or handshake required.
2. "Sherlock Homes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles,'" by Pierre Bayard. Leave it to a Frenchman to take Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous (and very British) detective to task regarding his most famous case. Good for the mystery lovers or Mr. Know-it-alls on your list.
3. "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia," by Laura Miller. Salon.com's book critic retraces her steps to a childhood love for C.S. Lewis's beloved series to rediscover the sense of wonder it can supply.
4. "Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America," by Jay Parini. Anyone who wears a flag pin should have this on the shelf. It names the books that made our paradigm shift before we knew what a paradigm was, focusing mainly on nonfiction and ranging from the journals kept by Lewis and Clark to Dr. Spock.
Other 2008 releases noted on air: "A Mercy," the latest novel by Toni Morrison, and "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," by Drew Gilpin Faust.