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A Postcard to My Family

December 17, 1995|LAUREN BEALE | Lauren Beale is a Times copy editor and sometimes Christmas elf

The Beales have always been big on stocking stuffers. As adults we all still hang stockings but realize that our continuing adolescence (not only at the holidays but throughout the year) puts an extra burden on Santa. Hence, Santa's helpers.

From our stockings emerge Chapsticks from Vermont elves, dental floss from Dasher, bottles of vanilla extract from Mrs. Claus. Chapsticks? Dental floss? Vanilla? Well, yes. Let Santa supply the good stuff, we'll concentrate on the practical, the mundane and the cheap.

Now lest you think us a family of total reprobates, there is another category of stocking stuffer that we have stumbled upon: the fun. And while my service as Santa's helper has been somewhat uneven in the past, this year I feel I've got it nailed: Enter the postcard book.

At about 5 by 7 inches and with rows of them crowding bookstore shelves, this is a gem among stocking stuffers: small, affordable and of almost endless variety. Having taken a good look at many of the 1995 offerings, here are some eye-catchers for your browsing pleasure.

FUN

CLOSE TO HOME by John McPherson (Andrews & McMeel: $8.95). Of all the books featured here, this is probably the most likely to have its pages end up in the mail. Funny and witty, cartoonist McPherson captures the absurdities in everyday life and takes them into the realm of the whimsical.

THE FRASIER BOOK OF POSTCARDS (Andrews & McMeel: $8.95). With quips and witticisms from the popular sitcom, "The Frasier Book" disappoints only for its frequently grainy photographic images. Despite this flaw, one can't help but smile.

MAGIC EYE II by N.E. Thing Enterprises (Andrews & McMeel: $8.95) and DISNEY'S MAGIC EYE by the Walt Disney Co. and N.E. Thing Enterprises (Andrews & McMeel / Hyperion: $8.95). The elves split on these books. The 8- to 10-year-old set (who can actually find a hidden image in less than two hours without getting a headache) preferred "Magic Eye II," saying the "Disney" book was "too easy to do." For the hidden-image impaired, easier is better and at least you can enjoy the Disney characters even if you never see anything 3-D.

STAR WARS: Behind-the-Scenes and STAR WARS: The Toys (Giftworks/Chronicle Books: $12.95, each). I caught Santa's young helpers scouring these books with gift-rapt attention. Didn't these movies come out before these elves were born? A testament to the foresight of filmmaker George Lucas, who preserved many of the models and props used in making the "Star Wars" movies, these books will appeal to both the original and next generation of fans. "Behind-the-Scenes" is more impressive overall, while "Toys" will grab collectors.

ART

ANGELS (Bulfinch Press / Little, Brown and Co . : $8.95) These works, most by French and Italian artists from the 1400s through early 1800s, remind us that angels are far from a passing craze of the 1990s. For both fine-art lovers and those who have been blessed by the occasional intervention of a guardian angel.

ART OF THE SOUTHWEST (Eiteljorg Museum/Pomegranate Artbooks: $9.95) Thirty colorful and vibrant depictions of the Southwest by great American artists--including Marsden Hartley, John Sloan and Georgia O'Keeffe--capture this region's striking beauty.

ADOLPHE-WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU (Pomegranate : $9.95) This French artist's careful study of form and technique is evident in his tender portrayals of children and domestic life. Exquisitely beautiful, these are images to linger over.

LOS ANGELES MURALS and LOS ANGELES MURALS BY AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTISTS (RJD Enterprises, P.O. Box 64668, Los Angeles, CA 90064: $7.95 each, (310) 470-8864). Wow! With both books including many murals in prominent L.A. locales, the former gives one the feeling that photographer Robin J. Dunitz also went sleuthing through L.A. backyards and backstreets to record seldom seen artwork on garage doors and houses.

N.C. WYETH (Pomegranate: $9.95) A prolific and versatile American artist who lived from 1882 to 1945, Newell Convers Wyeth is known for paintings and illustrations that brought life to classic books and graced periodicals. Wyeth's enthusiasm for life permeates his art.

PHOTOGRAPHY

ANSEL ADAMS: The National Parks (Little, Brown: $8.95) This is the third postcard folio book authorized by Ansel Adams' estate. Magnificent falls short of describing this incredible legacy of black-and-white photography. This meditative grouping will inspire, awe, uplift.

THE BLUES (Pomegranate: $9.95) The world of blues as seen through the camera of amateur photographer Stephen LaVere includes shots of Howlin' Wolf in 1950, a youthful B. B. King performing in shorts in Memphis from the early 1950s and a 1930 photo-booth self-portrait of the king of the Delta blues singers, Robert Johnson.

THE BLUE PLANET (Pomegranate: $9.95) With the help of NASA, take a satellite's view of Earth and pick out storms, continents and bodies of water. Most spectacular is one image of our lone planet and its single moon awash in a sea of blackness.

WOMEN OF THE WEST (Pomegranate: $9.95) From San Marino's Huntington Library photo archives come 30 sepia images of women in the West from 1850 to 1905. As a group, these photos help expand one's thinking about the role of women in this mythic region. As cards, they offer snippets of life in the Old West.

Note to my family: Any departures from or stretching of the truth in the introductory matter constitutes poetic license on my part. Do not write my editor! And have a Merry Christmas. There will be something special in your stockings this year.

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