WE HAVE BEEN passing the dog days in cooling thoughts of fall, up to our muzzles in publishers' catalogs. What we've been trying to do is pick out some of the outstanding books of the forthcoming season. How do you set up limits? First, no paperbacks. Then, no cat books, interior decorating guides, exterior decorating guides, running books or books on the joys of weightlifting or the zen of tennis. What's left? Too many, which brings on the resolution that absolutely, postively, there will be no more than 100 books on my list. One hundred -- not one more or less. So here, without further defensiveness, is our list of 105 big books for fall, personal, biased choices, and not definitive, authoritative or any other "ive" but subjective. NOVEL MEANS NEW THE LEADING FICTION TITLES are the blankable books by the most popular authors. And there are a good many of these, starting with The Covenant , by James A. Michener (Random House), a saga of South Africa from 15,000 years ago to the present, by the author of Chesapeake and Centennial . Answer as a Man is Taylor Caldwell's latest (Putnam), a tale of power and corruption in a Pennsylvania town at the beginning of the century; E. l. Doctorow, author of Ragtime, tells of life in America in the 1930s in Loon Lake (Random House). Robert S. Elegant follows up his Dynasty succes with Manchu (McGraw-Hill), the fall of the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century.

As usual, there are a number of top-flight adventure stories and thrillers by top-flight authors; Ken Follett has a spy story in The Key to Rebecca (he is the author of Eye of the Needle and Triple ) from William Morrow; Michael Crichton, who wrote The Andromeda Strain and The Great Train Robbery, now takes the reader on an adventure in darkest Africa with Congo (Knopf). Africa is the setting for two other adventures, Horn of Africa, by Philip Caputo (Holt, Rinehart & Winston) a tale of arms struggling by the author of A Rumor of War, and The Ghosts of Africa, by William Stevenson (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), an epic based on World War I in East Africa, by the man who penned A Man Called Interpid.

Other adventure novels include Free Flight, by Douglas Terman (Scribner), author of First Strike. This is about a manhunt by land and air in the aftermath of World War III. Richard Condon's latest, The Entwining is described as "a melodrama of the ERA, a thriller of murder and politics," publishing by Richard Marek. John Masters, who wrote Bhowani Junction, now offers a sweeping romantic novel of World War I, Heart of War (McGraw-Hill); Lawrence Sanders follows his First Deadly Sin, Second Deadly Sin and Sixth Commandment with The Tenth Commandment (Putnam); and Thomas Harris, author of Black Sunday, gives us a psychological chiller with occult overtones, Red Dragon (Putnam). On the subject of chills, Peter Straub, the Ghost Story man, is back with another scary book, Shadowland (Coward-McCann), while prolific and reliable Stephen King is out to get you again (he wrote The Shining The Stand and The Dead Zone) with a terrifying novel about pyrokinesis, Firestarter (Viking).

For devotees of the romantic suspense genre, two of the best, Helen MacInnes and Phyllis Whitney, are back. The former's novel is The Hidden Target (Harcourt) and is set against an international background of terrorism, while the latter's novel, Poinciana (Doubleday), is set in steamy Florida. For romance buffs, the high priestess of paperback love is here in hard covers: Danielle Steel, author of The Promise, has now finished The Ring (Delacorte), a multigenerational saga of passion beginning in World War II Germany; and Norah Lofts has written a brief history of England as seen through the rather stormy history of A Wayside Tavern (Doubleday). Judith Rossner, author of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, takes us to the textile mills of 19th-century Lowell, Massachusetts, in her love story, Emmeline (Simon and Schuster). Garson Kanin, who had a smash with Moviola, is now looking for a smash with Smash (Viking), about a broadway hit musical.

The imaginative Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America, takes a new flight of fancy in The Tokyo-Montana Express (Delacorte). William S. Burroughs, author of Junkie and Naked Lunch, is back with Cities of the Red Night; A Boy's Book (Holt). Anothony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, has spent 10 years writing Earthly Powers (S&S), a novel about two men -- a priest who becomes pope and a celebrated author -- who personify power; William Golding's Rite of Passage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a bout a ship's voyage during the Napolenic era, by the author of Lord of the Flies. The Middle Ground (Knopf) by Margaret Drabble, is about a successful woman journalist in her forties, and Oriana Fallaci, who is a successful woman journalist, has written A Man (S&S), about the life and death of a martyred Greek freedom fighter.

In Aztec, by Gary Jennings, the publishers of Shogun, Atheneum, are looking for another Clavell-type hit; they believe they have it in this story of the conquest of Mexico, seen through the eyes of the Aztecs rather than the conquistadors. One fall novel is way off the beaten track: The Frankenstein Diaries (Viking), edited by the Reverend Hubert Venables, which purports to be the never-be-fore-published diaries, letters, private papers and drawings of the celebrated monster-maker.

And, finally, four of America's most noted writers are represented by short story collections: The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (Harcourt); Fifty Stories, by Kay Boyle (Doubleday); The Stories of Ray Bradbury (Knopf) presents 100 stories by the author of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451; and A Sentimental Education, short stories by Joyce Carol Oates (Dutton). SEEING STARS CONSIDERING THE RUNAWAY successes of the autobiographies of Doris Day, Lauren Bacall and Shelley Winters, it looks like the show-biz tell-all is here to stay. My story, by Igrid Bergman (and Burgess) (Delacorte), looks like a winner, because the lady has some story to tell. Also Swanson on Swanson (Random House), because Gloria Swanson's name is synonymous with glamor. John Huston: A Open Book (Knopf) is the first-person life story of the filmmaker whose career has spanned three decades and who directed Key Largo, Beat the Devil and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Sammy Davis Jr., who began his life story in Yes I Can!, continues it in Hollywood in a Suitcase (Morrow); Hall Wallis, the Hollywood producer who gave us Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and True Grit, gives us his life in Starmaker, which he wrote with Charles Higham (Macmillan). Television host Merv Griffin has collaborated with Peter Barsocchini on his life story, Merv (S&S). Sir John Gielgud's book is not a true autobiography, but a memior of his days on stage and screen, An Actor and His Time (Clarkson N. Potter).

Of the third-person show business stories, the caketaker by far will be David O. Sleznick's Hollywood (Knopf), a monumental job of bookmaking, and of research and writing by Ronald Haven. It boasts over 1,000 illustrations, a foldout from Gone With the Wind, a King Kong insert and a cover price of $85. Other profiles are Susan Hayward: Portrait of a Survivor, by Beverly Linet (Atheneum); Roman Polanski, the biography of the controversial and bizarre film director, by Thomas Kiernan (Delilah/Grove); Naked at the Feast, the life of Josephine Baker, by Lynn Haney (Dodd, Mead); Growing Up with Chico, by his daughter, Maxine Marx Printice-Hall); and not one but two portraits of the late Peter Finch, Finch, Bloody Finch, by Elaine Dundy (Holt) and Finchy, by his former wife, Yolande Finch (Wyndham).

Literary lives limned include Walt Whitman: A Life (S&S) by the man who won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for his Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, Justin Kaplan; John Dos Passos: A Twentieth Century Odyssey, by Townsend Ludington (Ditton); Frank MacShane's The Life of John O'Hara (Dutton); The Alcotts: A Family Biography, by Madelon Bedell (Potter); Alice James: A Biography, a study of the repressd younger sister of William and Henry James, which gained for author Jean Strouse the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. Two literary autobiographies are The Frog Prince, Maurice Girodias' story of his life with Olympia Press (Crown), and Towards the Mountains, by Alan Paton, a leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa and author of Cry, the Beloved Country. LEADING LIVES OTHER ILLUMINATING first-and third-person life stories include Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1971 (Harper & Row); Bess and Harry: An American Love Story, by Jhan Robbins (Putnam); Woody Guthrie: A Life, by Joe Klein (Knopf); Baryshnikov: From Russia to the West, by Gennady Smakov (Farrar); Tito: The Story from Inside, by Milovan Djilas (Harcourt), a man who served as a partisan with Tito, was once looked on as his successor, but who was later jailed as a dissident; Notebooks: B. F. Skinner, edited by Robert Epstein (Prentice-Hall), the journals of the founder of behavioral psychology; The Last Days of Patton, by the author of The Game of the Foxes and Patton, Ladislas Farago (mcGraw-Hill); Views From a Window (Lyle Stuart), 20 years of the best interviews with Gore Vidal, edited and arranged by Robert J. Stanton; Independent Journey, the life of the controversial Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas, by James F. Simon (Harper); and a couple of sports stars: Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game, as told to Eugene L. Scott (S&S) and Number 1, by Billy Martin & Peter Golenbock (Delacorte).

Three itinerant memoirs caught our eye: Ways of Escape, by Graham Greene, a kind of autobiography of travel in Mexico, Vietnam, Cuba, Africa and of life in the south of France and London (S&S); Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War (Little, Brown), by William Manchester, author of The Glory and the Dream and American Caesar; and Double Discovery: A Journey, by Jessamyn West, a bittersweet and nostalgic remembrance of the author's first trip abroad in 1929, at the age of 26 (Harcourt).

All of which segue neatly into other places and other people. Such as: New England: The Four Seasons (Houghton), which gives us Arthur Giffin's photographs together with the words of Archilbald MacLeish, John Updike, John Kenneth Galbraith and others; Going to Extremes by Joe McGinnis, top-level reportage about Alaska, from the author of The Selling of the President (Knopf). And three perfectly lovely books that invoke earlier times: The Edwardian Lady , by Ina Taylor, the story of Edith Holden who wrote The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (Holt); The Golden Calm: An English Lady's Life in Mogul Delhi, a recollection of the 19th-century British Raj (illustrated with 200 eight-color plates), edited by M. m. Kaye, author of The Far Pavilions, and Bruce Chatwin's (author of In Patagonia) The Viceroy of Ouidah (Summit), the life and times of Francisco de Souza, a white Brazilian slave trader who live in West Africa in the early 19th century. DON'T OVERLOOK THESE LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN, famous feminist and writer, has a new book coming out on the subject of raising a non-sexist child in the 1980s, Growing Up Free (McGraw-Hill); while another feminist, Jane O'Reilly, has a book of essays on women and their problems and triumphs, The Girl I Left Behind (Macmillan). Two oral histories are of interest, American Dreams: Lost and Found by Studs Terkel (Pantheon), in which appear a hundred American lives and a thousand dreams, and First-Person America, edited by Ann Banks (Knopf), 80 life histories collected between 1938 and 1942 by the Federal Writers' Project (this will be a six-part documentary series on public radio). Speaking of series, two books are tied to public TV series: Cosmos, by Carl Sagan (Random House), 15 billion years of cosmic evolution, by the author of The Dragons of Eden; and Life on Earth, by David Attenborough (Little, Brown), which is the history of nature, from 3 billion years ago, when one-celled organisms came into being, up to apelike man. In Naming Names (Viking) Victor S. Navasky examines the moral issues that faced the men and women called to testify in the 1950s before the House Committee on Un-American Activites. Why did they name names? Tom Wolfe, who named the "Me Decade" (the 1970s) now caricatures it in his first book of drawings, nearly 100 of the, In Our Time (Farrar). The new buzzword for the 1980s may be "entropy," derived from the Second Law of Thermodynamics; in short, why things don't work any more. See Entropy: A New World View, by Jeremy Rifkin with Ted Howard (Viking). In The Roswell Incident (Grosset & Dunlap), Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore explore and document the 1947 crash in Roswell, New Mexico, of "an estraterrestrial vehicle" that contained bodies of dead humanoids. No Man's Land: 1918 (Doubleday) tells of the last year of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] War, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, John Toland. And Ager's Way to Easy Elegance is a novelty. It's a butler's guide to all the things butlers know best -- caring for clothing, managing a household, setting a table, and other "graces." By Stanley Ager and Fiona St. Aubyn, from Bobbs-Merrill. DEAR SANTA, PLEASE BRING ME . . . THE DICTIONARY of Imaginary Places, so's I can read about Oz, Narnia, Middle-Earth, Dracula's Castle and 1,500 other places. By Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, and published by Macmillan. And bring me The Audubon Society Encycloypedia of North American Birds, by John K. Terres, with its 320 pages of color plates and its 850 black and white drawings (Knopf); Irving Penn's Flowers, 73 flower portraits by a noted photographer (Crown); Treasures of the Library of Congress (Abrams) by Charles A. Goodrum; The Metroplitan Museum of Art, by Howard Hibbard (Harper), with 600 color plates and 500 in black and white; Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Fifteenth and 125th Anniversary Edition, which has grown from 258 pages in 1855 to 1,600 pages today (Little, Brown); Corridors of Time: 1,700,000,000 Years of Earth, written and photographed by Ron Redfern, showing the Grand Canyon in panoramic photography (Times Books); The Encyclopedia of Crafts (Scribner), edited by Laura Torbet, three volumes, 12,000 entries, 50 crafts; Allure, by Diana Vreeland, 80 years of celebrities in 160 black and white photos (Doubleday); Of Women and Their Elegance, by Norman Mailer with photos by Milton H. Greene (S&S); The wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame's classic, newly illustrated with 70 full-color plates by Michael Hague (Holt); First Photographs, 19th-and 20th-century historic "firsts" in photography, by Gail Buckland (Macmillan); The Art of Maurice Sendak, by Selma G. Lanes (Abrams); Paul Simon's America (Proteus), lyrics by Paul Simon and 200 photos by Sergio Dorantes; America Dances, by Anges de Mille (Macmillan), the development of dance in this country from Amerindian fertility dances to disco; and the big, big China, by Huang Jiemin and seven others (McGraw-Hill).

Oh, and four books on Russia, please, Santa: Photographs for the Tsar (Dial) the pioneering color photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II in 1909, edited by Robert H. Allshouse; Land of the Firebird: The beauty of Old Russia, Suzanne Massie's history of pre-revolutionary Russia, tracing arts and culture (S&S); her husband Robert Massie's biography, Peter the Great (Knopf), from the author of Nicholas and Alexandra, and Henri Troyat's Catherine the Great: A Biography (Dutton).

And Santa, I've been such a good girl that you might bring me a copy of everything I've written about, or better yet, every single book coming out this fall. I deserve it.