AN EXALTATION OF LARKS Or, the Venereal Game, by James Lipton (Penguin paperback, $3.95). The key word in the subtitle is derived not from Venus, goddess of love, but from "venery," a somewhat obsolete term for hunting. Its subject is the collective nouns used traditionally by hunters to designate various groups of animals ("a pride of lions, a skulk of foxes, a school of fish, a gaggle of geese"). The game of adding to this priceless linguistic resource is a very old one (Lipton's major source is a 1486 manuscript), and it continues; Lipton adds some new terms invented by himself or acquaintances ("a flush of plumbers, a string of violinists"), and in this second edition there is a plethora of terms inspired by the first: "a pan of reviewers, a slew of exterminators, a cord of woodwinds, a hover of helicopters, a glut of commercials." Such a book hardly needs illustrations, but it has them - old prints, abundant and used with great wit.
THE BEST ENCORE, by Peter Passell; illustrations by Kimble Mead (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $6.95). Some entries are obvious (what but Michelin could be the best guide to French restaurants?); others must be considered frivolous (the best frisbee), ghastly (the best poison; the best way to skin a cat) or self-destructive (the best undiscovered French restaurant in New York). A good many are flippant and not oriented toward consumer guidance - the embarrassing quotes from Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford, for example. And not a few (the best senator, the best one-volume excyclopedia, the best kitchen knife) ponder the imponderable. Still, the advice given (when it is given) is generally sound, and even in as complex a questionn as that of the best piano, this compendium attempts to come to terms succinctly with the intricacies at hand. The best art museum in America, for instance, is the Phillips Gallery in Washington. The book's chief attractive, however, lies in its breezy, informative style and its wide range of interests as well as its unflagging dedication to excellence in all fields.