Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Other Box Sets

By Margaret Moser

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  They look like books. At least, they seem to be packaged that way -- sometimes they actually have books in them. They carry titles like The Gifts of the Magi, Gold: A Book and Kit, and Ancient Rome Treasure Chest. Sometimes they're for kids, like the Keepsakes series, and sometimes they're most definitely for adults or at least teens, such as The Return of the Tribal: Body Adornment Kit. They are the box sets of the book world, not simply a collection of titles in a gift sleeve but gifts that do more than offer reading -- you can play with them.

That's what I did, staying up to all hours with cards, crafts, jewelry, and ancient civilizations. At 3am, I was cleaning up mosaic tiles, metal links, dream cards, clay, sequins, cotton balls, and newspaper. And I was back playing with most of them the following night.

Dreams (Running Press, $15.95) calls itself a "guide to the secrets of the mind" and offers a miniature dream interpretation book and a pack of 56 "meditation cards." It's all a bit New Age-y but the subject of dreams is provocative enough to make even a cursory examination of Dreams intriguing. The booklet is so-so, loose and vague in its words of wisdom and guidance, and the meditation cards are mildly interesting -- I didn't care for the loopy artistic style of the images though they certainly have a dreamy quality to them. If this is the kind of New Age thing that interests you, Titania's Oraqle? by Titania Hardie (Overlook, $25) may be more what you want. The purpose of this book escaped me, so I consulted my goddess-loving friend Isis, who described it as "a really elaborate Magic 8-Ball" in book form using a set of 100 spiritually oriented questions. The rest is subjective, as the combination of prepared questions with visual images guides the response. The questions seem a bit loaded on the romance/luck/fame angle (which is what most people ask about), but as a contemporary cousin of the Ouija Board, it's not an uninteresting concept or execution. Boxed in an attractive blue suede-like cover, too.

I confess to getting interested in this other kind of "box set" while looking for gifts for my 12-year-old niece Kristin, whose birthday is two weeks before Christmas. Keepsakes: The Secrets Box (Running Press, $9.95) seems to be something she'd like, a small, pink and blue diary-like box that opens to reveal a cute little booklet called The Secrets Book, a pink plastic key for "locking" the box, and a necklace with a small, book-shaped locket. I locked and unlocked it with my fingernail but that's neither here nor there. If she likes it, she'll like Keepsakes: Christmas Wishes (Running Press, $9.95), which also contains the cute little Christmas Wishes Book, red plastic key, and a charm bracelet. Considering the price, this is probably a better buy; I found myself playing with it longer than I intended.

I also found myself playing with The Return of the Tribal: Body Adornment Kit (Park Street Press, $26) more than I expected. The Kit allows for temporary dabbling into body decorating -- a fake nose ring, henna for mendhi designs on the skin, tattoo transfers, etc. I was afraid to try the mendhi -- too messy to try with my computer keyboard so close -- but I had better luck with the bindi, those little jewel thingies the Hindis wear on their foreheads. You know, like Madonna. In playing with the contents, I learned of my inability to apply a fake tattoo properly. I had imagined this cool, tribal, barbed wire-looking band around my wrist but the transfer fell apart like wet Kleenex when I tried to lift it from my arm and it barely left any mark. A lizard design currently adorns the back of my hand but it, too, came out uneven. And the fake nose ring was fun until I caught it on the crown of my claddagh ring while adjusting my glasses and flung it somewhere on the floor by accident. I forgot to take off the bindi until I showered that night but I brought the rest of the bindi to pass around the office that Monday. I even wore one to the HEB for lunch, borne in silent tolerance by my officemate Marge, who accompanied me. Your fave young pagan-in-training should love it.

Collections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are featured in both The Gifts of the Magi (Bulfinch, $14.95) and Gold: A Book and Kit (Simon & Schuster, $25), equally scrumptious in the right hands. Magi should have been more interesting: It's an artfully rendered tiny book with 40 color illustrations included, The Gifts of the Magi, two tiny sacks of frankincense and myrrh, and a little bottle containing goldleaf. Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but there is not much you can do with these precious tchotchkes, no matter how gorgeous the book's illustrations are. Gold kept me up all hours. I made -- albeit crudely -- a set of vaguely Celtic coins, using the polymer clay provided and a bunch of my Celtic earrings for designs. All right, so I didn't bake them because the clay stuck to my desk. I'll try it again because it was really quite fun even though I didn't want to make a fan or a beehive ring.

I played with something similar to Treasure Chests: Ancient Rome (Running Press $19.95) when I played with AncientGreece and AncientEgypt in past years. I think these are marvelous gifts for kids -- challenging the mind as well as occupying the time away from the computer and television. Rome contains a "secret drawer" with a timeline, a Roman map, and two paper Roman figures, plus the accompanying booklet, an amulet, a laurel wreath, a scroll (with instructions on how to make a toga!), a Roman "tablet" and stylus with which to mark it. This is a very well-designed series.

A similar set from the same publisher was Ancient Arts: Mosaics($16.95). I opted to make the Greek design because of its vaguely Celtic shape. After I extracted a triangle piece of plastic mosaic tile from my keyboard and spread newspaper on the floor, I remembered what fun making a mosaic was, and wished I had someone there to share it with.

Is my bindi still on?

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