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Margo Hammond & Ellen Heltzel, BETWEEN THE COVERS: THE BOOK BABES' GUIDE TO A WOMAN'S READING PLEASURES. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2008. 304p. pap., $16.95, ISBN 978-0738212296.

Reviewed by Marcia Thomas

A couple of self-named "Book Babes" put a new spin on the books-about-books genre (think Nancy Pearl or 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die). The book's title may imply a focus on chick-lit or steamy novels, but the authors have compiled recommendations for a delightfully wide range of books written by, for, and about women, from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson to Mrs. Clean Jean's Housekeeping with Kids by Tara Aronson. Authors Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel are veteran book critics. Hammond is the former book editor for the St. Petersburg Times and past president of the Southern Book Critics Circle. Heltzel is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and a freelance book critic. The duo has collaborated since 2002, when they started a weekly online book column (

In their introduction to Between the Covers, Hammond and Heltzel state their organizing principle, with a nod to library classification: "Just as the Dewey Decimal System was invented to impose order on books, we've created a system of our own to guide and stimulate your reading ... it can help you in a way that Dewey cannot, because it follows the rhythms of a woman's life" (pp.2-3). There are eight main sections, each of which contains an introductory essay and several reading lists of ten books each. The reading lists are then organized by related theme. For example, "Family & Friends" has ten themes, including "10 for Making Peace With Mom" and "10 About Siblings, With or Without Rivalry." The authors note that many of the titles within the fifty-five groups of ten are connected in interesting ways: "They echo or amplify each other, or take an opposing view ... In her novel The Collection, Gioia Diliberto imagines a young seamstress working in Coco Chanel's Paris atelier. In My Mother's Wedding Dress, Justine Picardie gives us an actual tour of the same workplace" (p.4). Hammond and Heltzel provide a one-paragraph critical annotation for each book recommended and intersperse their lists with brief essays on a variety of topics, from "Books as Aphrodisiacs" to "In Praise of Margaret Atwood," whose works are recommended "by the bunch." There is an author/title index.

With its informal writing style, subjective (although informed) reviews, and lack of footnotes or other documentation, Between the Covers may not qualify as a reference source for some library collections. But given its broad coverage and thoughtful annotations, it can be highly recommended as a source of personal pleasure as well as a reference source for libraries with any type of reader's advisory service.

[Marcia Thomas is the director of technical services at Ames Library, Illinois Wesleyan University.]

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Title Annotation:Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures
Author:Thomas, Marcia
Publication:Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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