Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Alexander McCall Smith's latest witty novel, Boston Symphony music ready for your iPod, 'Man on Wire' out on DVD, and more.

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Pour the tea and pass the scones

In The World According to Bertie, prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith revisits the residents of 44 Scotland St. in Edinburgh. This outing centers around Bertie Pollock, a 6-year-old prodigy whose sweetness somehow survives the attention of his mother. (In a world of helicopter parents, Bertie's mom is the Sikorsky Skycrane.) Other crises: Angus's beloved dog may have to be put down and Domenica faces the mixed blessing of having a close friend move in next door. Genial whimsy abounds, as we learn that some problems can't be solved, they have to be outgrown.

Dr. Atomic's evolution

Recommended: 10 best books of November: the Monitor's picks

When Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams chose the construction of the atomic bomb as a subject for a modern opera, he had to wrestle a gigantic moral dilemma – the destruction of humanity on a mass scale – into a roughly three-hour art form. Watch and learn about Adams's and the scientists' soul-searching challenges in the PBS Independent Lens documentary, Wonders of Many: The Making of Dr. Atomic, Dec. 16, at 9 p.m.

From podium to iPod

With its newly opened download store, the Boston Symphony brings music from the conductor's podium to your iPod. A variety of recordings from Symphony Hall and the Tanglewood Music Center are available at BSO.org as MP3s or in HD Surround. Maestro James Levine's first major recordings with the orchestra will be available in February. Boston Symphony Orchestra started a download service available in HD sound. It'll include the Pops, BSO, and Tanglewood recordings.

AAC, CCD, GUI, HUH?

It's easy to get overwhelmed with initial-itis, especially when talking technology. In Digitally Daunted: The Consumer's Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life, authors Sean and Jean Westcott (a techie and a nontechie, respectively) explain the hieroglyphics, plus the pros and cons of each technology. Which cellphone to buy? Laptop or desktop computer? What if something goes wrong? Their guidance is clear, concise, and helps you TCB ASAP.

A Taut documentary on DVD

"Man on Wire," a documentary about a tightrope walker who traversed New York's Twin Towers in 1974, plays like a great heist film. Philippe Petit, a derring-do Frenchman with the feet of a ballerina, walked a fine line between passion and obsession as he and his crew spent years devising a plan to infiltrate the World Trade Center and throw a line between the two buildings. The wire-walking footage inspires awe.

Joy to the little ones

As you buy gifts for the children in your life, why not get one for a child you don't know? The US Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Foundation collects new, nonviolent toys to give to needy kids in your community. Check www.toysfortots.org for the nearest drop-off center.

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