'I don't like the phrase of

coffee-table books

," says Michael Fox, owner of Philadelphia's Joseph Fox Bookshop. "We never use the word because I find it a bit demeaning. It suggests that their only purpose is to sit on a coffee table and look good."

Whatever you call them, bookstores are full of these big, glossy tomes during the holiday shopping season. The best of the best do more than just showcase pictures. They offer commentary and context about their subjects, whether it's art, photography, architecture or fashion, which makes them a perfect, personalized gift for that hard-to-please friend - or yourself.

Here are a few options from what's new in 2008:

Judith Salavetz, Spencer Drate, Sam Sarowitz and David Kehr

Chronicle Books. $75

Film and design buffs will love

Art of the Modern Movie Poster

, which showcases post-World War II cinema art. It goes beyond James Bond and Elvis flicks - the book canvasses movie posters from 16 countries with commentary from Sam Sarowitz, owner of Posteritati, one of the largest holdings of international film posters in the world.

Caroline Cox

Collins/Design. $39.95.

"What's old is new again" is never more true than in

Vintage Shoes

. The book showcases women's footwear styles from the last 100 years, using newspaper ads, fashion photography and advertising to show how classic styles - the Mary Jane, the pump, the stiletto - first stepped from the runway and to our feet.

Rick Tramonto

Broadway Books. $35.


takes its name from the Italian word for tavern, which is where Rick Tramonto, chef and James Beard Foundation award winner, found inspiration for this, his sixth book. But don't leave


in the kitchen - the book features enough pictures of the food to categorize it as art. Still, if you are looking for kitchen inspiration,


(no relation to the Broad Street restaurant) is a good place to start, with information on everything - even instructions on how to cook pasta properly.

Jim Shaughnessy and Jeff Brouws

W.W. Norton. $65.

Jim Shaughnessy started photographing trains in 1946, and

The Call of Trains

is a collection of more than 60 years of his work throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The photos stand alone with minimal commentary, but are annotated in a closing chapter if you want to learn about the trains that filled his camera for more than half a century.

Ennis Carter

Quirk Books. $50.

Ennis Carter, founder and director of Philadelphia's Design for Social Impact, put together Posters for the People in honor of the 75th anniversary of the New Deal, which created, among other things, the Works Progress Administration. The group put hundreds of unemployed artists to work creating posters promoting everything from flower shows to soapbox-derby races to America's parks, which are catalogued and showcased in this book.

Katy Friedland

and Marla K. Shoemaker

Temple University Press.


Coffee-table books aren't just for grown-ups, as proven by

A Is for Art Museum

, a kid-sized catalog that brings children into the Philadelphia Museum of Art through pictures and the alphabet. Every letter is tied to a piece in the museum, and asks readers a question about the photo. One page reads, "Y is for yellow," across from a picture of Takashi Murakami's

And then and then and then and then.

"This lively creature is made up of lots of circles. How many can you find?" It's the perfect museum companion, too, for a first trip.