''Twins'' and ''The Book of Twins'' offer a double take on the concept of duplication

Look-alike books are the bane of competing publishers. Look-alike books about twins? Double trouble.

Just arrived: the glossy, photo-filled tome Twins. Publisher: Running Press. Authors: peppy, identical 31-year-old brunets Rachel and Ruth Sandweiss. (”What’s it like to be a twin?” they write. ”We don’t know what it’s like not to be a twin.”) But look out, here’s another! Glossy, photo-filled tome No. 2: The Book of Twins. Publisher: Delacorte. Authors: perky, identical 31-year-old brunets Debra and Lisa Ganz. (”What’s it like to be a twin?” they intone with eerie sameness. ”As all twins will tell you, we don’t know what it’s like not to be a twin.”)

Twin lit is hot — witness I Know This Much Is True, The God of Small Things, and the indefatigable ”Sweet Valley High” series — but this really is deja vu all over again, and again. Last year, the authors of Running Press’ 1995 coffee-table hit Sisters set industry tongues awag when they jumped to Doubleday for their touchy-feely follow-up, Mothers & Daughters — all the touchier because Running Press’ publisher happened to be one writer’s brother-in-law. Running Press retorted with Daughters & Mothers, for which it recruited an unrelated creative team. Both books are still in print, and the Sisters scribes have risen above the fray; Doubleday will publish their Best Friends in November. But two publishers are still whaling away at one another. You see, Delacorte is Doubleday’s…sister imprint.

”We suppose we should be flattered, but Running Press finds it curious that a publishing house as important and creative as BDD would clone original concepts from an independent publisher,” snipes Justin Loeber, the smaller house’s publicity honcho. ”We weren’t scheduled to publish until spring ’99,” retorts Delacorte/Dell editor in chief Leslie Schnur. ”And then, as they are wont to do, Running Press heard about our book and decided that they should do a book.” Hmph. On to the difficult business of unraveling the dueling twin sets. Ganz & Ganz co-own a twin-staffed Manhattan restaurant with the actor Tom Berenger, operate a casting agency for multiples, and maintain an 800 number for their ilk. They’re developing a talk show and a breakfast cereal. ”We look very wholesome on the front of the book,” says Debra — or is it Lisa? ”We’re not wholesome at all. We’re the big hooker twins!” But Sandweiss & Sandweiss seem genuinely wholesome (and Phi Beta Kappa, Loeber brags). ”Any book that is an honest celebration of the deep capacity for two people to love each other unconditionally is so inspiring,” says a magnanimous Rachel (Ruth?). ”How can we make judgment?”

Both works spotlight young twins, old twins, dancing twins, disabled twins, sporty twins, twins married to other twins, and celebrity twins. ”We have psychic twins,” adds Schnur, herself the mother of two bouncing you-guessed-its, ”who project that we will have hundreds of thousands of copies sold.” Sighs Loeber, ”The sad thing is the consumer might not be able to tell these books apart.”

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