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Coffee Table
A momument to Kramer: A coffee table made of coffee table books, complete with an image of Jerry Seinfeld on one book cover

In Honor of Kramer...

The great coffee table book hunt

Web posted on: Tuesday, May 12, 1998 1:14:42 PM EDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- When he is finished with his gig on "Seinfeld", Cosmo Kramer will most likely strike up his own brilliant business and become a multi-billionaire. After all, he is a man of ideas, and his ideas never added up to nothing.

To the contrary, Kramerica, Inc. brainstorms were so right-on, so in-your-face obvious, we often wondered why, indeed, there wasn't a cologne that smelled like a beach, or a bladder to protect the content of oil tankers after a collision.

Perhaps Kramer's best-known idea, his forest-through-the-trees masterpiece, was his suggestion of a coffee table book about coffee tables, complete with legs, and a coaster on the cover. The publishing industry swooned, and now we swoon, too, in honor of Kramer's monumental concept.

As the final "Seinfeld" -- and the last thoughts from Kramer -- flicker off into re-run land, we pay tribute to his coffee table book idea with ... The Great Coffee Table Book Hunt.

In our search, size didn't matter. What mattered was the subject; we wanted works so profound, so arcane, so unusual that if you saw it sitting in a friend's house (where else but on the coffee table?!?) you had to pick it up.

We didn't run across a coffee table book about coffee tables (any publishers reading this?), but we did uncover these treasures:

Rolling Stone

"Rolling Stone: The complete covers, 1967-1997" (Abrams) gives fans all of the magazine's covers including, of course, a classic shot of Jerry Seinfield showing off his Elvis-style Spandex jump suit while he chows down on a turkey leg. But Jerry is but one of the 728 covers that graced the magazine, from No. 1 featuring a publicity shot of John Lennon from the film "How I Won the War" to the 30th anniversary issue that featured Courtney Love, Tina Turner and Madonna and a story titled "Women of Rock".

Menopause Madness

"Menopause Madness" by Pat Ross (Fireside), a cute little book (6 inches by 6 inches) filled with witticisms that Elaine Benes is bound to utter in a few years. Described as a "rash yet empathetic little book," MM offers dozens of one-liners premised on that classic set-up, "You know you're in menopause when ..."

Atomic Cocktails

"Atomic Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for Modern Times" by Karen Brooks, Gideon Bosker and Reed Darmon (Chronicle) harkens back to those great days when the first thing a successful person did was come home from work and start drinking! "Tough day at the office? Unwind with a nice, cool Urban Bourbon" the book flap invites. "This thin book offers to reveal "the secrets ardent swingers have spent years discovering, including the fundamentals of mixology and how to master all the classics: the Manhattan, Side Car, Old-Fashioned, Mint Julep. "It even includes a guide to gadgets and glassware." We can picture Kramer in that leopard-print smoking jacket, sipping cool gin and considering his next masterpiece.

Bugd in 3D

"Bugs in 3-D" by Mark Blum (Chronicle) will be a hit for any 12-year-old boy, or for anyone in your life who acts like any of the male characters in Seinfield. Its title says it all -- you get dozens of color images of weird bugs and a built-in stereoscope to view them all in 3-D! "Cool!" we hear you cry. And it is!

"Verbiage for the Verbose" by Pete Gordon (Andrews McMeel) helps you be cool at all the parties and staff meetings by giving you direct translations for Smartspeak phrases, and visa-versa! So the saying "like two peas in a pod" becomes the much more tongue intensive "Resembling a duad of green vegetables in a seed vessel." The adage "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" becomes "Do not dispose of the infant when disposing of the liquid in the tub." In other words, it's word play! Yada, yada, yada.

Star Trek

"These are the Voyages ... a three-dimensional Star Trek Album" by Charles Kurts ( Pocket Books) has to rank near the top of any list of books described as visually outstanding yet basically useless. In other words, we loved it! Just lift the cover and classic Star Trek scenes pop up, accompanied by a storyline by noted Trek inhabitants, from Capt. James T. Kirk (star date 2270) and Ambassador Spock (2296) to Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (2367) Commander Benjamin Sisko (2371).

We interrupt this list of arcania to include three coffee table books of socially redeeming value. Please do not adjust your computers. The list of arcania will continue in a moment!

"The Art of Frank Howell" (Doubleday) has dazzling and luminous images of the native people and natural beauty of the Southwest United States. The book (the first in this list to really fit the standard definition of 'coffee table book') offers full-color reproductions of almost 80 paintings as well as black and white photographs of the artist at work.

"Feeling the Spirit: Searching the world for the people of Africa" by Chester Higgins Jr. (Bantam) is another classic coffee table book with stunning images and compelling text. "We are Africans not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us," writes Higgins.

"Flash! The Associated Press Covers the World" (Abrams) is a compelling collection of the photos that not only made the news, but were the news. How far will they go for the story? Consider the last dispatch of the AP reporter covering Custer's campaign against the Sioux in 1876": "I go with Custer and will be at the death."

The last three entries were provided so this story included some books of culture. Now back to the arcane and unusual!


"A Brief History of Underwear: Unmentionables" by Elaine Benson and John Esten (Simon & Schuster) dives right to the heart of the matter with the book flap: "Garters. Bras. Briefs. Corselettes. Underpants. We know what these sexy items are, but how much do we really know about them?" How much do you want to know? This book takes you from strategically placed fig leafs on Adam and Eve to "fetishistic paraphernalia, intrinsic elements of sadomasochistic fantasy." Hang on!

"The Adventures of Sandee the Supermodel" by Isaac Mizrahi, illustrations by William Frawley (Simon & Schuster) is billed as a "3 book miniseries" but is actually three marvelously drawn and wickedly scripted comic books. The story follows Sandee from her arrival in New York -- "I just graduated from a modeling academy in Bountiful, Utah" -- to her betrayal by the publicist, Hildegarde, and her rescue by Yvessac. And consider the back cover, which offers a nearly-nude drawing of her. "Meet Sandee," reads the text. "She's 5'9 1/2, platinum blonde, and ready to go! Cut her out and dress her up in her fabulous outfits and accessories found inside on pages 11 and 22. Take her dancing in her "supermodel" evening wear, sunning in her spa clothes, bumming in her cutoffs and gingham halter. And don't forget, she never wears anything but lacy pink lingerie under her trench coat. She's tasteful, she's classic, she's timeless. She's Sandee!"

The Empire Strikes Back

"Mighty Chronicles" (Chronicle) are tiny books (3 inches by 4 inches) that feature classic movies. We couldn't resist the Star Wars collection, a trilogy (just like the movies) that tell the full story in comic version. Pick 'em up and you won't put 'em down!


Finally, a coffee table book for pet lovers! (You didn't think we'd forget them, did ya?) "People and Their Animals: The Bond" by Robert Caras and Shel Secunda (Simon & Schuster) shows the marvelous and magical bond between people and their irrepressible pets. Be sure to check out Gary Larson's bullmastiff named Murray.


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