Of the making of books there is no end. ...
- Ecclesiastes 12:12
If youre a reluctant shopper like I am, you probably forked over exorbitant postage and handling fees and ordered your gifts online or from a mail-order catalog, too. In the latter case, you also know what happened after you dropped that first envelope in the mail: Hundreds of catalogs from other optimistic merchandisers began arriving at your door.
I exaggerate not. My arms were so tired from carrying stacks of enticements to order what I didnt need or want, that I tried to think of a way to hook one of those drive-in bank suction tubes to my mailbox so the catalogs could go directly to the trash bin behind my house.
Speaking of enticements to order, since I find it difficult to resist either a good bargain or a good book, Im a pushover when it comes to joining a book club. You know how it goes: Choose five books for 99 cents each, save $135 off the list price, and agree to buy four more books over the next two years. What a savings; what a painless way to trim your Christmas shopping budget, assuming you have five friends who would be as happy to receive your rock-bottom priced gift as you are to give it.
But what the brochures dont tell you is that once you sign your name and send in your bargain-basement dollars, the company turns on ITS suction tube and out goes your name to every other book club in the country - which is how one year I purchased another five Christmas presents for an additional $5 plus postage, handling and a promise to buy four more books over the next two years.
Of course, if you dont return those little cards refusing the featured selection each month, wanted or not, youll accumulate your quota in a lot less time than the required two years.
Too much trouble, you say? Not if you consider the added benefit of reading blurbs about all the new books available each month. Sometimes the brochures themselves are more fun to read than the books, which I discovered the other night after I received a new list of Bargain Books about subjects I either didnt know existed or could never imagine anyone writing down. Perhaps youll find the following examples as amazing (or amusing) as I did:
Ants at Work - A Stanford professor has spent 17 summers observing red harvester ants a revolutionary, 208-page book that makes our old ideas of caste and authority among these insects obsolete.
The Art of the Cigar Label - Extensive collection of the chromolithographic art (the what?), arranged thematically.
Painting Animals on Rocks; Painting Flowers on Rocks - In this two-book set, artist Lin Wellford shares her enthusiasm for turning shapely stones into lifelike creations, or bouquets guaranteed not to wilt.
A Field Guide to Pigs - Descriptions and illustrations of more than 30 breeds; includes fascinating tidbits about pig behavior, a list of famous or remarkable pigs, and pig quotes.
And, just in time for the annually anticipated flu season, Flu - The story of the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918, told with all the drama of a fictional thriller lively writing; thrilling, scary reading. Author Gina Kolata also captures the excitement of scientific inquiry into the virus, including an account of the determined researcher who sought answers in a frozen grave in Norway.
Though Im sure these authors mean well, I cant help feeling like the little girl who told her grandmother she wanted a book about penguins for Christmas. The eager-to-please grandmother bought the child the longest book she could find on the subject, but the girl wasnt pleased. Grandma, she said, this is more than I wanted to know about penguins.
Incidentally, for those suffering from - or trying to avoid - the flu, a second opinion from my doctor: Wash your hands often, and keep even clean hands away from your nose and mouth. Not once did he recommend Kolatas book.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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