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Between Soft Covers

Never read a book that is not a year old. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson The place is Homewood and its inhabitants are alive thanks to John Edgar Wideman's exceptional talent, a talent made vivid in The Homewood Trilogy (Avon, New York, $8.95). The novels which make up this trilogy -- ``Damballah'' (1981), ``The Hiding Place'' (1981), and ``Sent For You Yesterday'' (1983) -- all appeared originally in paperback; the last of the trio won the 1984 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The books are prose blues, potent family history, social history, but primarily top-notch fiction. Wideman's latest book, ``Brothers and Keepers,'' is nonfiction, and will make more sense if his fictions are read first.

Those who can't or won't spend the better part of their waking hours at the movies, but who want to know what's what, should consult Pauline Kael's expanded and updated 5001 Nights at the Movies (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, $12.95). Kael is The New Yorker's film critic, and that magazine's editor, William Shawn, says in his foreword that her reviews ``are not only dazzling but brief, are models of compression.'' Exactly, and there are hundreds of them.

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The landscape of the four tales in Gary D. Keller's Tales of El Huitlacoche (Maize Press, Colorado Springs, Colo., $6) is the United States-Mexico border, and some social-political commentary is inevitable and present. But Keller has done more than to provide a Chicano-inflected account of ``The River.'' Here's the beginning of ``Papi Invented the Automatic Jumping Bean'': ``My dad invented the first authentic wormless Mexican jumping bean with an empty Contac capsule and a ball of mercury he siphoned off a store-bought thermometer.'' It makes you want to read on.

The first ``Murder Ink'' appeared eight years ago, and now Dilys Winn has improved on that remarkable volume with a ``revived, revised, still unrepentant'' installment, Murder Ink (Workman, New York, $9.95), with contributions by more than 40 new writers. Among the ``perpetrators'' mystery fans will recognize are: K. C. Constantine, Martha Grimes, Reginald Hill, Peter Lovesey, Ed McBain, P. D. James, Robert B. Parker, and Robert Barnard. Great fun.

``The Shakers,'' writes Marian Klamkin in Shaker Folk Art & Industries (Dodd, Mead, New York, $10.95), ``have given their country a legacy of beautifully handcrafted objects that were designed with honesty and functionalism in mind.'' Employing over 270 black-and-white illustrations, and considerable historical detail, Klamkin supports her thesis quite well and also lists some museums and public collections where Shaker artifacts can be seen.

It is hard to find a book or article on management that does not somewhere, somehow owe something to Peter F. Drucker. Available in a three-volume boxed set (for $24.95) or singly, Drucker's Management (Harper & Row, New York, $10.95), Managing in Turbulent Times ($6.95), and The Effective Executive ($6.95), are models of their kind, books that will assist today's manager or interested party in understanding management philosophy.

Frank O'Connor could be cranky and eccentric, but he was a great short-story writer. That he was also a serious analyst of the form is obvious from The Lonely Voice (Harper & Row, New York, $5.95), which contains an introduction by Russell Banks. O'Connor writes about Maupassant, Hemingway, Kipling, Turgenev, and D. H. Lawrence, among others, and routinely makes inflammatory statements like this: ``Now, a man can be a very great novelist as I believe Trollope was, and yet be a very inferior writer. I am not sure but that I prefer the novelist to be an inferior dramatist.''

Janet Kauffman burst on the literary scene a year ago, and now her first collection of stories is available in paper. Places in the World a Woman Could Walk (Penguin, New York, $4.95) contains characters who cultivate their eccentricities as much as the Midwestern land they live on. Excellent short fiction.

Vita Sackville-West, a legend in her own time, became a legend in ours thanks largely to the Nigel Nicolson's ``Portrait of a Marriage.'' Our view is enlarged, enhanced, and otherwise improved by Victoria Glendinning's splendid biography, Vita (Morrow/Quill, New York, $9.95). Glendinning, who already proved her considerable skills as a biographer with ``Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn Among Lions,'' proves sympathetic yet fair, and her subject, of course, is fascinating.

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Dover Publications has a tradition of producing useful and inexpensive collections of photographs, and Arthur Rothstein's America in Photographs, 1930-1980 (Dover, New York, $6.95) is no exception. Rothstein is best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration in the '30s and '40s, but his work has also appeared in Look, where he was director of photography from 1946 to 1972, and countless other journals. Americana.

``Education is in the headlines once again. After years of shameful neglect, educators and politicians have taken the pulse of the public school and found it faint.'' So begins High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America (Harper & Row, $8.95), Ernest Boyer's relentlessly quoted work on the need for renewed commitment to our nation's high schools. This report, underwritten in large part by the Carnegie Foundation, is well written and to the point.

Ross Thomas's career as a writer of popular fiction has grown continually fuller, and one of the finest of his 20 efforts is the recent Missionary Stew (New York, Penguin, $3.95), an energetic political thriller. Two of his earlier works, ``The Backup Men'' and ``The Porkchoppers'' (Perennial Library, New York, $2.95 each), have also just been reprinted and they, too, show Thomas to be a writer of the caliber of John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard.

James Kaufmann reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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