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Between soft covers

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Never read a book that is not a year old -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are so many familiar adages about vengeance -- revenge is sweet, an eye for an eye, don't get mad, get even -- because the subject has a dark and enduring attraction, yet is discouraged by civilization. In Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (Harper/Colophon, New York, $6.95), Susan Jacoby takes a long look at vengeance and its relation to justice. She begins Chapter 1 with the debatable observation: Forgive and forget. This admonition surely ranks as one of the most foolish clich'es in any language,'' and goes on to discuss revenge in life and literature at length. An ethically complex and timely book -- especially given recent events on New York subways -- it demands attention.

The desire for revenge is what starts Ike Tucker on his way to Huntingdon Beach and into a world of surfers, bikers, and sheer decadence in Kem Nunn's Tapping the Source (Dell, New York, $3.50). This novel was nominated for the American Book Award for First Fiction, and not surprisingly: the writing is first rate and reverberates with echoes of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald. The plotting is sure and the pace quick, and the Southern California landscape is omnipresent. There's nothing like a good first novel.

Farms, farming, agriculture, and all that is front-page news these days, but farming as most of us know it is not what Masanobu Fukuoka talks about in The One-Straw Revolution (Bantam, New York, $3.95). Fukuoka's ``Do-Nothing Farming'' refers not to actual labor -- there's plenty of that -- but his feeling that ``there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide.'' Modern agricultural techniques only seem to be necessary, he maintains, because ``the natural balance has been so badly upset.'' Farming is truly a way of life for Fukuoka, and the spiritual component of this book is large. Introduction by Wendell Berry.


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