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September 02, 1997|ARA NAJARIAN

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Big Girl in the Middle"

by Gabrielle Reece and

Karen Karbo.

Crown Publishers, Inc.

Price: $24

Don't judge this book by it's cover.

Volleyball player-model Gabrielle Reece's semi-autobiographical book "Big Girl in the Middle" is not simply a way for Reece or Crown Publishers to make money by showing pretty pictures.

Sure, they may be a nice byproduct--and there are some provocative pictures--but the price is appropriate for the content of the book.

And despite the lack of an apparent reason for the book, it turned out to be fairly interesting.

For all her accomplishments in modeling and volleyball, Reece has not reached the peak in either of her careers. In fact, co-author Karen Karbo makes a point of that early in the book: "Gabby is at work. . . on a beach whose name pops up only in the 'Fish Report' section of the paper."

It's nice to learn that Reece has had to travel some of the same bumpy roads as those who aren't models or professional athletes.

And she seems surprisingly honest and personal about some of the personal things that have made her bitter. In fact, sometimes you feel as if you learn a little too much and are intruding.

Karbo, for her part, does a credible job describing life in Reece's presence and the people around her. And, as credible as she is at the close-up portraits, she also is able to provide perspective:

"It comes down to this: Generally speaking, we like our male stars for their statistics, our female stars for their stories," writes Karbo, who often makes references to Reece's maturity and intelligence.

But are Reece's work ethic and commitment to her sport the same as maturity? On Page 178 she berates her former coach for back-biting comments, then three pages later commits the same offense. It is a rare instance, and only human, but the proximity of the two incidents amplifies the disparity.

But most of the points are well made. For example, women spend more on athletic footwear and apparel than men do, so Nike's large contract with Reece seems well founded.

To the end, Reece is the "Big Girl in the Middle."

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