Snack Books

Article excerpt

IT'S publishing's equivalent of snacks or fast food - wee books with type so large that pages can be read from across the expanse of a bathroom.

It's the way author Nora Ephron once characterized People magazine: "Like a bowl of potato chips. You know it's not good for you, but you can't put it down."

These are what some booksellers call "small treasures," printed nibbles stacked near cash registers. Little books bought on impulse, like grabbing a handful of munchies, or candy out of a jar.

Lots of calories, lots of fun. But not all of it is necessarily frivolous. In some cases, the little books provide quick hits of inspiration and even serenity - printed pick-me-ups. And there are shelves of what booksellers call "dependency" books, aphorisms and spiritual sayings for those in 12-step programs.

But mostly these are upbeat booklets - "14,000 Things To Be Happy About," "Heart, Humor, Healing," "Good Advice for a Happy Life," and Suzy Becker's best seller, "All I Need To Know I Learned From My Cat."

And talk about eclectic. "Small treasures" can mean a dizzying array of things. "Great Quotes From Great Teachers" sits right next to "Mapplethorpe," a tiny photo book of work by the late, controversial photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. Down the way is "Hooked on Golf," $5.95, with such lines as this one from Chi Chi Rodriquez, "For most amateurs, the best wood in the bag is in the pencil." And then there's Andy Warhol's "Angels, Angels, Angels," angel books being very big-sellers.

Normally, it's easy to find these bookcases. Just look for a small crowd near the checkout area, and listen for laughter, giggling and someone reading aloud.

At Library Ltd. in Clayton, Nicki Fritz and Trisha Nelson circled the bookcase, picking up various small treasures, reading aloud from "The Joy of Marriage" ("My fiance got me this one," said Nelson), or the huge best seller, "Life's Little Instruction Book, Volume III" (9 million copies sold), or "511 Suggestions, Observations and Reminders on How To Live a Happy and Rewarding Life," by H. Jackson Brown Jr.

"I love these books," said Fritz, who lives in Kirkwood and is a senior majoring in elementary education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. She added that these books can be real depression relievers. "They're a real pick-me-up, whenever I feel down; they're a way to ease out of a funk.

"And I'm a big Mary Engelbreit fan," she said, referring to the red-hot local artist whose sentimental and cute illustrated books are all the rage of impulse-book buyers.

Engelbreit is an industry. Besides books, she makes more than 300 other products and has a store in the Galleria. And a promotional shopping bag that says it all - "Engelbreit's the Name, Cute Is My Game." At Library Ltd., she has a whole shelf to herself in the "small treasures" bookcase.

"They make great little presents," said Nelson, Fritz's roommate and a pre-school teacher in Kirkwood.

Karol McNutt was on a lunch break in Clayton. She paused from her browsing to say she likes the philosophical and meditation things "for women who do too much," she said.

Tom Coffey stopped to look, but that's all he did. Coffey, a St. Louis firefighter, Engine Co. 24, Natural Bridge Avenue and Union Boulevard, said he does a lot of reading. And with that, he flipped the book he was carrying to show the title, "Abraham Lincoln's Great Speeches."

"But I read the whole thing, not these little nibbles."

Mary Marx, a secretary who works in Olivette, was quite secretive about what she was doing, loading up on small-book stocking stuffers. …