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Thumb wrestling, spam and birds, oh my

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 28, 2010 - Every year, the volunteers with the Greater St. Louis Book Fair get boxes and boxes of books. And every year, inside those boxes, they find treasures, rare items, books with signatures and inscriptions and pieces of local history.

But there's always some weird stuff, too.

This year, those include:

• "The Little Webster," a 2-inch tall book with 800 pages and 18,000 words, has a leather cover and is thought to be both old and rare. Brown wasn't sure yet if the book had been priced.

"It's about the size of a matchbox," she says. "It's teeny tiny."

• "Bird Songs" comes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is an illustrated book with descriptions of birds and an audio player on the side. Brown says just type in the number given to the bird and you can hear its call.

• "The Official Book of Thumb Wrestling" is a board book with cutouts for thumbs in case you want to practice. Each page has a mat and rules of different thumb wrestling games, including "thumb's revenge," and "power thumb."

• "The Sports Book" has a hardcover made of Astroturf. It gives the details of all sorts of games from track and field to curling.

• "Le Nez Du Vin" is a wine aroma kit that includes 12 vials that help readers (and sniffers) identify wines. The book offers advice on how to recognize different aromas and tips for wine tasting.

"I think no matter what your interests, you can find a book that will appeal to you," Brown says. "It's just interesting. I was stunned to see the cookbook on how to eat people if you want to become a cannibal."

Brown thinks "The Cannibal Lover's Cookbook from Soup to Nuts," is tongue-in-cheek, but she's not sure.

Some other strange cookbooks include "I'm a Spam Fan," "Cooking in Oz," "The Star Wars Cookbook," "Being Dead is No Excuse -- The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral," "Gross Goodies" and "Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers."

"In addition to strange books, of course, we have more than 150 categories of books," Brown says. "And we're putting out more than a million books."

In fact, Jean Riezman, a long-time volunteer, says more books were donated this year than ever before. Because of that, expect tables to be restocked Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday.

Among the rare items found this year are a collection of comic books from comics' sliver age and books donated by the Missouri History Museum.

Other rare books include a book of photography from 1939, a history of the med school at Washington University from 1940 and an anatomy book from 1830.

The auction, which will take place opening night, also has some unique finds, like a Boy Scouts handbook from 1913 and a collection of smoking pipes.

Proceeds from the book fair will go to the Nursery Foundation of St. Louis and several literacy organizations, including Ready Readers and First Book - St. Louis.

Riezman says the goal each year is to make $300,000, and while they've never hit that, she is hopeful that people will come out over the four day sale and find books priced to sell.

And along with all the weird stuff, they may just find something else, too.

"One of the things that is so cool is the serendipity," she says.

Like the people who happen to pick up a book written by a family member, or with their grandparent's name scribbled inside.

"It just seems like fate just hangs over this place."

The Greater St. Louis Book Fair begins Thursday and runs through Sunday. Admission is $10 Thursday and free Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And if you don't find what you're looking for, Riezman says, come back the next day.

"You just never know what you're gonna find here."