I'm so sorry I missed these two books in the weeks before all the big winter holidays; they would have made great gifts. Need birthday gifts (or late Valentine's gifts?) for any readers you know? I'd like to suggest a couple of titles.
Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read, by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark,* is one of those fantastic readers' guides that is almost as fun to read as many of the books its authors suggest. In various sections on love, memoir, family, history, politics, humor, work and money, war, religion, and death (you can see they've covered all the bases), the authors list books you should read, histories of and book-group-ready questions about those books, and lists of other related titles you might like. They also do all this, bless them, in a witty way. This is how their section on "Love" opens:
"O love! How manifold are your stings! How versatile your applications! Love is sweet and bitter, pungent and cloying, brittle and squishy, in and out. In Saudi Arabia, they stone you to death for it. Meanwhile, in France, it is compulsory for third graders...
These twelve books will clarify (or inspire) the misadventures in your own life. At the very least, they will show you that--however bizarre, wonderful, sordid, or humiliating your experience--you are not alone." (p. 3.)*
Another great "books about books" title out there is Books: The Essential Insider's Guide (City Secrets), edited by Mark Strand. It's actually part of the "City Secrets" series of guide books, but instead of learning a city's secrets, you learn the secrets of literature. In this book authors such as Oscar Hijuelos, Calvin Trillin, Adriana Trigiani, and many others offer short essays on forgotten or little-known books they think you should read. And the titles! Wonderful. I've never heard of any of them. (Examples: The Armada, by Garrett Mattingly; Black Milk: Poems, by Tory Dent; Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.) Truly a book for the person who thinks they've read everything. And it's very aesthetically pleasing, too; with thick, glossy paper, and not one but TWO little ribbon bookmarks already attached to the spine. Lovely.
*Titles they suggest on "Love" include Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert; Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan; and Marriage: A History (nonfiction!) by Stephanie Coontz.
*Thanks to Stacy Horn, at whose great blog I first read about this book.