The Austin Chronicle

Little Books

December 20, 1996, Books

The Christmas clock is ticking away... and you know who you are, you last minute gift-procrastinators, you. Oh yes, some of you are suffering from Mall Anxiety or Fear of Shopping or even just plain Scrooge-like mindset. Never fear, Auntie M is here with a few book titles to ease that pain.

The subject is Little Books. Stocking-stuffers, if you will. The kind where you pick them up and go, "Oh, how cuuute!!" Okay -- so a few of them are slightly larger. Take it up with Santa, not me.

Little Books seem to multiply during the holiday season, perhaps because so many of them have "Christmas" in the title. Here's The Christmas Conversation Piece: Creative Questions to Illuminate the Holidays by Bret Nicholaus and Paul Lowrie (Ballantine, $10 hard), thought-provoking topics to ponder and discuss after the gifts are opened. The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon (Random House, $12.95 hard) is a gentle tale of an orphan girl (aren't they always orphans?) whose love for a tree is carried throughout her life. It is sentimental without being too treacly, though I did tear up at the end. And there always seems to be books about cats, such as The Historical Cat by Norton with Peter Gethers and Norman Stiles (Fawcett, $10 hard) is really cuuuute -- whimsical pen-and-ink sketches of famous feline pets; the back features a bespectacled "Jerry Garcia's cat."

If it's not Christmas or cats in the little book, it's got to be quotes. You know -- those smarmy inspirational collections. No shortage of those -- The Rich Are Different compiled by Jon Winkour (Pantheon, $20 hard) will definitely make your wallet lighter as it imparts humorous anecdotes about those who can better afford the price of this book. Frankly, My Dear by Katherine and Richard Greene (Fireside, $9 paper) gathers insults and one-liners for just about any occasion, some quite memorable. There are many such titles; this is one of the better ones.

Fill in the blanks and make up your own title: ________ Who Hate ______ or Why _______ Are Better Than Men. I hate these kind of books. I think they're a waste of time and publishing. Lump Marnie Winston-Macauley's Men We Love To Hate (Andrews & McMeel, $4.95 paper) and Manspeak (Andrews & McMeel, $5.95 paper) fall in that category. Do we really need more books like this? I preferred the surprisingly less vacuous 101 Ways to Flirt by Susan Rabin (Plume, $9.95 paper), which wrapped a lot of common-sense advice in a deceptively fluffy package.

Pardon the pun, but here's one for the books! 365 Ways to Simplify Your Work Life by Odette Pollar (Dearborn, $8.95 paper). Of course you have to find the time to read these little time-saving gems and in order to do so you may need 1002 Ways to Waste Your Working Time by The Diagram Group, (St. Martin's Press, $9.95 paper). 1002 Ways is actually quite funny, rather thick, and packed with graphics -- one of the best in the batch here.

Thumbs up for What's Right About America by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil (Anchor, $9.95 paper) Don't let the jingoistic title fool you: This book is a hilarious no-brainer by the guys who did Beavis & Butt-Head: This Book Sucks. #477: Our belief that any foreigner understands English if spoken loudly enough. I laughed aloud at it, as I did for Queer Baby Names: A Completely Irreverent Guide to Naming Your Lesbian/Gay Tot by Matthew Rettenmund and Jaye Zimet (St. Martin's Griffin, $7.95 paper), even though I wondered about the dichotomy that allows us to laugh at a cultural sub-group only if they're making fun of themselves. Of course, Chuck Shepherd's The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics (Andrews and McMeel, $6.95 paper) has no such compunctions, as this esoteric collection of oddball news items attests -- Shepherd makes fun of everyone. This is bathroom reading at its best. The Chronicle's executive stall boasts a copy.

The Little Blues Book by Brian Robertson (Algonquin, $9.95 paper) boasts "illustrations by R. Crumb," reason enough for me to pick it up. However, this is not new art -- if you've seen Crumb's enormously popular Heroes of the Blues trading cards, you've seen these wonderful, color portraits of essential blues players like Memphis Minnie and Peetie Wheatstraw. Robertson, a Sixth Street musician, gathered text culled from lines and verses of blues songs -- little bits of barroom wisdom, smoky sentiments, and whiskey thoughts -- and packaged it neatly with Crumb's art, but there's something a little fatuous about this book: I thought that Robertson and Crumb had collaborated and looked forward to that, so I was a bit disappointed.

Being a fan of bad pop culture, I picked up Hollywood Hi-Fi: Over 100 of the Most Outrageous Celebrity Recordings Ever! by George Gimarc and Pat Reeder (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.95 paper). Dallas resident Gimarc is author of Punk Diary 1970-79 and a fan of bad pop culture himself -- no surprise that he could dig up an album recorded by Seventies gossip columnist Rona Barrett. Rona Barrett, fer chrissakes! It's not enough to read about Jerry Mathers or Regis Philbin behind the mike, here's Sissy Spacek! George Goober Lindsey! The cast of Hogan's Heroes -- singing!!!! Sorry, I digress, but you'll have to excuse me: They're so cute I couldn't resist. -- Margaret Moser

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