What do those who make their living from the news, whose stock-in-trade is the written word, want to be reading as they curl up by the fire, or, more likely, as they talk on the phone or rush to cover a crisis that forgot it was Christmas? We asked a random selection of our colleagues from the newsroom of The Washington Post that question, and here is their response: SCOTT ARMSTRONG National Reporter SANTA, IF YOU COULD drop it off on Christmas Eve, I'll be able to pinpoint your hideout by dinner time Christmas day.The Haines Criss & Cross Directory lists the names and phone numbers for each address in town. It is cross-indexed by telephone number, providing the address and identity of each user. Regularly providing the crucial clue in important mysteries, it is the indispensable tool of every investigative reporter, but, leasing for $320 for three volumes per year for the District of Columbia alone, few individuals can afford it.

If you are out of Haines, I'd love a Lusk's Directory, which for an annual lease of $425 lists the owners, appraised value, and other intimate details of each piece of property in the city. For example, it will tell you the appreciation on the North Pole Toy Factory or the true address of the owner of the strip joint on 14th St. N.W. (St. Nicholas Enterprises of North Pole).

Just the same Santa, I'm willing to forgo any gift this year, if you will drop off several books for those moral majoritors coming to town. I'd love to see them get copies of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers stuffed down their stockings. After all, anyone who intends to run around Washington in a red flannel suit with white trim and black boots better hope they read all three. JOSEPH McLELLAN Style Reporter and Critic MY CHRISTMAS BOOK needs are simple if not modest: one New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and one Lectures on Literature, by Vladimir Nabokov (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). If someone supplies the Grove, I will probably be able to negotiate the $19.95 to get the Nabokov for myself. The Grove (which is fresh off the presses) should probably be acquired soon, since the price will jump to $1,900 at the end of this year. Right now, it is a mere $1,400. I have no stocking capable of holding the Grove, which comes in 20 encyclopedia-size volumes, but if necessary I will arrange to have one knit.

The new Grove (the sixth edition) continues a tradition dating back more than a century. It is twice the size of the fifth edition, which appeared in 1954 (when the word "stereophonic" was just beginning to edge into the American vocabulary) with a supplement in 1961. This increase represents fairly the growth in subject-matter during the last quarter-century: new music worth discussing, new musical resources (synthesizers, for example, and computers that make music), and new information about older music, particularly medieval and Renaissance. Since 1954, Grove's (like the listening public) has also become much more open to non-Western styles of music, and the new edition contains more than a million words on ethnomusicology, besides articles on jazz and popular music. To make room, a lot of material on minor Victorian composers has been omitted -- and that, too, may be a selling point.

The Nabokov item requires less explanation; he was the supreme master of literary artifice in the last generation, and anything he has to say on the craft of fiction is worth the most minute attention. CHRISTIAN WILLIAMS Style Reporter JOHN FLORIO'S TRANSLATION of The Essays of Montaigne. "Here a well-meaning Booke," writes the author, Michel de Montaigne, in his introduction of March 1, 1580, only to confess soon thereafter that "myself am the groundworks of my booke: It is then no reason thou shouldst employ thy time about so frivolous and vaine a subject. Therefore farewell."

Nonsense, of course. Who could bid goodbye to 97 piquant essays on the specifics of life, love, taxes and death, each balanced beautifully on the fulcrum of common sense. His table of contents alone begs the attention: "By Divers Meanes Men Come to a Like End"; "Against Idleness, or Doing Nothing"; "How We Weepe and Laugh at One Self-Same Thing."; "That Our Desires Are Encreased by Difficultie."

It is to these and their companion essays one can turn in time of 1980 duress, always confident of finding our modest author ready with level-headed recommendations backed up charmingly with classical reference. Whether warning against wine (which stole Alexander from his generls), or ruminating on the place of animals in human societies, he is never without citation: " -- his piscem flumini, illic Oppida tota canem venerantur. -- Juvenal. (A fish here whole Townes reverence most, A dog they honor in that coast.)

Florio's antique Montaigne is the most scrumptious. It reads like the King James Bible: the translation perhaps questionable, the syntax sometimes thorny, but the beauty and rhythm of the sentences unsurpassed. Florio's remains in print only in the three-volume A.S.E. Press edition ($73), but the 1933 Modern Library edition can still be found by looking. Paperback samplers are widely available, all of them in modern translations.

Lectures on Literatuare, by Vladimir Nabokov (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95). The September Esquire published excerpts from these lectures, given some years ago to lucky undergraduates at Wellesley and Cornell, who must have got an earful. Nabokov believes the reader's responsibility is as great as the author's, and sets out to do for readers what Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch did for writers (in On the Art of Writing) and E. M. Forster for novelists (in Aspects of the Novel): that is, to unlearn us of bad habits.

Nabokov's reading list item on Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, begins: "Please completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, consign to oblivion any notion you had that Jekyll and Hyde is some kind of mystery story, a detective story, or movie." Aye aye, professor; if someone will only give me your book.

Winning: The Psychology of Competition, by Stuart H. Walker (Norton, $11.95). Stuart Walker of Annapolis, professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical School, is also the foremost analyst of dinghy racing tactics in the world. On the docks of the Severn Sailing Association, which he helped found 25 years ago, he is an eminence grise of easy access; at the helm of his Olympic yacht, however, he is nothing but trouble for his competitors. This is Walker's sixth book, and his first venture beyond the specifics of sailboat combat to the psychological determinants of victory in all sporting endeavors.

Anyone who plays tennis, billiards, chess or office politics will benefit enormously from Walker's consideration here of the game-playing personality as part child, internalized parent and adult. His analysis of the inevitability of "pecking orders" in any league; of the need for mental toughness; of the uses of intimidation, courage, trust are invaluable in helping any contestant understand why he loses -- and why he sometimes wins.

Implicit in all of Walker's writing on sailing and winning is the notion that victory is desirable, that "mastery is enjoyable." Believe it or not, most of us don't really want to win; this book tells why, and what to do about it. DAVID BRODER National Political Correspondent THE BOOK I would like to receive for Christmas is Merle Miller's Lyndon: An Oral Biography (Putnam, $17.95). Everything I have heard about the book makes me think that Miller has captured the larger-than-life qualities of Lyndon Johnson and the gusto that he brought to every human transaction in which he was involved. I am in the mood for biographies. After the endless campaign, it would be very satisfying to look back at a life, a career, that is complete -- that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and a pattern that links all three. In time, I suppose, we will be able to step back and see what was holding together the politics of 1980, but at the moment, it seems a jumble to me. Johnson, by force of character, imposed a degree of order in his own vicinity -- even if he set loose a lot of still-uncontrolled forces in this country and the world. I'm ready to immerse myself in that kind of story.

The other book I want to read -- should have read, years ago -- is John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Knopf, $10; Bantam paperback, $1.75). I am dumb on spy stories. Watched all four installments on television, some of them twice. Still not sure I understood how he caught the Mole. But I think if I read the book now, I'll get it. JIM HOAGLAND Foreign Editor WHAT DOES Hoagland want? Actually, friends and family never have much trouble figuring that one out at Christmas. First there is the book that promises great enjoyment and elucidation but which will find its way to the back burner of a busy schedule and perhaps fall off the stove altogether unless it is invested with the special grace of being a holiday gift. Bright wrapping moves this book to the top of the reading list.

This year, that book is Conrad in the Nineteenth Century by Ian Watt (University of California Press, $21.50). During a decade of reporting on the Third World, I probably have learned more about colonialism from Conrad's fiction than I did from any textbook or political tract. A book that promises to unlock both Conrad's political sense and his mastery of language, as Watts' does, would be welcome in my stocking.

So would Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $25). Hoping to pass on the magic and lyricism of Calvino's invented dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, I have sent forth a number of copies of Invisible Cities myself, and would love to secret away this new volume from Calvino for quiet moments by a fireside this winter. PETER OSNOS National Editor

MY CHOICES ARE eclectic, spanning not only subject matter but the realms of probable value. First I'd like Ronald Reagan's out-of-print autobiography Where's the Rest of Me? (and maybe another scarce tract he coauthored entitled Ronald Reagan's Call to Action). While the insights contained therein might not be essential to understanding our new leader, this kind of work has proven useful in highlighting presidential themes. For instance, the title of Jimmy Carter's autobiography Why Not the Best? became a mocking commentary on his tenure in office. Reagan has been around a long time, of course, and his story is pretty well known. But since we're bound now to a time of intimacy, anything that provides clues to his thinking and actions is going to be useful?

At the other end of every spectrum I can think of is my second choice, actually a work-in-progress, The book is I. F. Stone's assessment of the ancient Greeks and the history of free speech or however he finally defines the topic. The best we'll do this year is an excerpt to be published in Harper's. But I've spent enough time with Stone to know that nowhere can there be found an author more enthralled with his subject than he is. Stone has committed his unique journalistic skills to a study that will be both captivating to read and as relevant to our contemporary problems as anything published in its time. Since there's still some work to be done on the book, I'll take a chit for whenever it's ready. SUSAN WOOD Assistant Editor, The Washington Post Magazine

POETS HAVE TO stick together because nobody else reads us. Actually, a recent survey, I heard, showed that not even poets buy poetry, and a friend of mine who just published his third book warned me that sending a book of poems into the world was "like casting a pebble into the ocean." I do in fact buy poetry, usually by poets with whom I'm already familiar and who I think have something to teach me, but there are a couple of books I haven't gotten around to buying yet. So, if Santa, or friends, are listening . . . I used to own a copy of Czeslaw Milosz's Bells in Winter (Ecco, $8.95; paperback, $3.95), but I lost it in a move. (Santa: since Milosz, a Polish poet who now lives in California, just won the Nobel Prize, the book may be difficult to find.) The other book is also by an exile -- A Part of Speech (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $12.95) by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. It is interesting that these poets -- along with Derek Walcott, a West Indian who lives in America part of the time -- are writing what seems to me the most exciting, original poetry in this country -- expansive, emotionally charged poems that open the door to the world and gather everything in. Maybe the particular hardships of their lives have given them more to say than most of us. NINA HYDE Fashion Editor FASHION IS a language that communicates, in an instant, how we feel about ourselves. A portrait communicates how the artist feels about the subject by sometimes even imposing a favorite or less distracting style of dress. On the other hand, a good photograph can capture in one picture not only the clothes but the posture, the expression and the attitude of one moment.

Diana Vreeland's genius is a visual one, witness the great fashion slicks under her guidance and the eight (so far) remarkable presentations she has directed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In her book, Allure, written with Christopher Hemphill (Doubleday, $35), she has chosen her favorite pictures of all times. And she makes a point of calling them pictures. "I (have) no respect for photographs -- only pictures. A good photograph was never what I was looking for. I like to have a point."

Her range is from paparazzi stuff to the hauteur of General de Gaulle, to Maria Callas in various guises, to some all time classic photographs of fashion by Horst, Steichen, De Meyer, Avedon and Beaton and more, all of which have allure, as she uses it in the title of the book. "Allure holds you, doesn't it? Whether it's a gaze or a glance in the street or a face in the crowd or someone sitting opposite you at lunch . . . you are held." This book has allure.

Another extraordinary collection of such photographs, not from this year's crop is Avedon Photographs: 1947-1977 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $50). His photographs -- and there are many in the Vreeland book, are of extraordinary women -- some great models, others women of unusual and often unconventional grace and beauty. "It is beauty in a certain kind of woman, a woman who presents herself as an art form." He captures that art form. Sometimes by pushing his subjects into doing something exceptional -- like Suzy Parker dressed in a couture dress and wearing roller skates -- or by saying something that forces an expression, or posing them unexpectedly, to say the least, as Dovima with elephants.

I have a friend who bought the book just to show her daughter it was all right to have an unusual nose. Whatever the reason, the book is a treasure. JUAN WILLIAMS Editorial Writer

CHRISTMAS IS NO TIME for intellectual pretensions; it's a time for books that sparkle to the eye and lead the mind to wonder and mystery. That's what I want for Christmas Mystery.

And the mystery that I want the most is The First Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders (Berkley paperback, $2.75). First, the killer is known from the start of the book. The mystery is in the workings of the killer's psyche and how a tough old New York City cop named Delaney tracks him down. The second reason this book is special is that the cop Delaney, while fighting crime, must fight life -- old age, a sick wife, office politics, the whole bag of tricks. But instead of moaning over "malaise" Delaney fights back with style, the kind of style that makes for heroes.

As you can tell I've read the book, so why do I want it for Christmas? The book is so well written, and so far above any other murder mystery of recent vitage that I want someone to search out an out-of-print hard-cover edition for me to keep on the bookshelf. The book is like a particularly good piece of taffy, the sort you go to the bother of leaving on a night table so you can have it in the morning. The book is that good.

In line with my desire for mystery comes my interest in city politics and city budgets. How cities like Washington, D.C., will pay for social programs, or any other programs for that matter, in the coming years may be the mystery of our times. The best book I've seen on the subject, but do not own, is The Cost of Good Intentions: New York City and the Liberal Experiment by Charles R. Morris (Norton, $14.95). Morris does not solve the mystery, but he does do a good job of setting the plot: the flight of the middle class and business and the effect of costly ideas on how to help the poor people left in the city. These are the ingredients of urban fiscal default.

If there is a Santa, he'll leave a copy of Morris' book under my tree. JUDITH MARTIN a.k.a. Miss Manners

OH, IT'S NO USE. I want The Macdermots of Balycloven, by Anthony Trollope and The Sense of the Past, by Henry James, but every Christmas I have asked Santa Claus and all the second-hand book dealers in America and England and all say they can't find them.

Anybody who gave me one of these would receive first, my lifelong gratitude, and second, the rest of my out-of-print books list.

It's no use suggesting that I take up new novels instead. Everytime I hear of one that I want, Santa Claus and the first-hand book dealers promise to order it, but it never arrives.

Thanks anyway, Santa, but nothing for me this year. I'm still catching up on the books I wanted -- and which, praise to Rudolph et al., you delivered -- 10 or 15 Christmases back. SALLY QUINN Style Reporter MY BOOK READING habits are very simple. I read books written by my friends. And since most of my friends are writers, I wind up reading a lot of books.

Some of my friends are good writers all of the time, and some of them are good writers most of the time . . . but some of them are awful writers some of the time, and I have to read their books, too.

Now this is not a complaint, mind you. But it does present a certain obligation. I feel that it is my duty to read what they write.

"Hey, I got your book," "You've done it again," "I'm halfway through and really loving it," "The reviews were really terrific," "I saw it in the bookstores and it looks great" are some of the phrases I've come to deplore.

Even the books by my friends which are good still carry with them the stigma of being written by a friend and therefore there is always the element of duty involved.

So. What books would I like for Christmas? I would love to have two books that are not written by anyone I know or might meet, to whom I would have to say I had read his or her book and feel guilty because I had not read it.

And I would like two books which I could read solely for pleasure nd about which I could be completely self-indulgent. Two books in areas which are my current passion and that I could keep around and read and reread over and over again for pure joy, entertainment and inspiration.

This first book is Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95), a series of lectures he delivered to Cornell students during the '50s, in which he describes the construction of famous works of fiction.

The second book is House and Gardens' new book, 20th Century Decorating, Architecture and Gardens (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $29.95), commemorating the magazine's 50th anniversary. It is a compilation of famous decorators talking about how they work.

All I really want for Christmas is to be a great writer and a great decorator.

Maybe if I'm the former I can take the money to pay for the latter. PHYLLIS RICHMAN Executive Food Editor ALTHOUGH I certainly could use another copy of Wiliam Rice's Where to Eat in America (Random House paperback, $5.95) to keep at my desk, and I am waiting hungrily for the newest Gault-Millau and Michelin guides to France, the books I want as gifts this year are both the fruits of England. Elizabeth David is a familiar and stimulating kitchen companion whose classics, Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking are being reprinted in one feast of a volume by Knopf, Elizabeth David's Classics (Knopf, $15). And for curling up on the sofa while I wait for my scampi to marinate, I would take Terrence Conran's The Cook Book (Crown, $30), a visual feast. JUDY MANN Columnist YOU ARE WHAT YOU READ, right? Since I like to think of myself as brilliant, erudite, and whitty -- not to mention well-organized and self-disciplined -- it follows that I should want books that complement that self-image. It follows that should want something like The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant or a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica which we are still paying off in monthly installments.

But I also know that the Christmas season is a wonderful time to curl up by a fire with a terrific read, so in my heart of hearts, I have to be honest: what I would really like for Christmas is the next book by Colleen McCullough, who wrote The Thorn Birds, and the next book by Frederick Forsyth, who wrote The Devil's Alternative, which I couldn't put down at the beach. I've read every book he's written and, well, they are at least well-organized. Colman McCARTHY Syndicated Columnist I AM NOT EVEN giving anyone books myself this season. I was at a friend's house the other night, and while she was in the kitchen cutting a pineapple for me, I browsed through her bookshelves. There, next to O'Connor and O'Connor (Frank and Flannery) was an O'Flaherty, my gift to her five years ago when she had the sense to be in an Irish mood. I opened it. Its pages were untouched. The glue of the binding cracked; its stiffness had never been strained. Then, while eating my pineapple, which was from eastern Puerto Rico and juicy, as against the Hawaiian kind which are overly chewy this time of year, I had a disturbing thought: how many friends have come into my house and seen their unread gifts on my shelves? Plenty.

I'm filled with guilt, which is fine for Lent but not Christmas. In the pursuit of useless things -- like becoming expert on pineapples -- I have yet to read even half the books that author-friends have given me, all of them inscribed with heartfelt words, no less.

So I'll take a flyby this year, Santa. And while I have your attention, congratulations: You are about the only friend I have who hasn't written a book this year. RICHARD COHEN Columnist TWO BOOKS, HUH? There's a trick to this -- a pretentious book and then a cute book. Gibsons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and "The Sayings of Mary Cunningham." (Don't laugh, it's just a matter of time.) But no, the book I want the most has yet to be written. It is the second volume of Edmund Morris' marvelous biography of Teddy Roosevelt. tThe first one (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt -- Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, $15.95; Ballantine paperback, $7.95) captivated me. It was the best biography I've ever read and when I put it down I was angry that it was over and that Roosevelt himself was not yet president of the United States. The most important part of his life lay before him and I could not read about it. Edmund, get moving!

And book number two? Well, I don't want book number two. I don't have the time for it. I want time for the new Doctorow and Navasky and Calvin Trillin and Carl Degler and that important book by William Wilson on the role of class in black society. I need time for the Amos Elon book on Egypt and Joe Klein's book on Woody Guthrie and the collection of Daniel Bell's essays and the new Justin Kaplan on Walt Whitman which will mean that I will then need time to read Whitman or have to settle, as most of us have, for his being nothing more than a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike. Hold the second book.