NONFICTION

Second Person Rural: More Essays of a Sometimes Farmer, by Noel Perrin (Penguin, $4.95). This sequel to Perrin's delightful First Person Rural exhibits the same puckish humor, the same close observation of the ways of country people and country life, and the same beautifully simple prose style as its predecessor, and is satisfyingly more reflective. A perfect book for Washingtonians who dream of puttering around a farm in Vermont or the Blue Ridge mountains.

Nuclear Weapons: Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (Autumn Press, 1318 Beacon St., Brookline, Mass., 02146, $7.95). In 1944, nuclear physicist Niels Bohr wrote to President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill warning that unless "the new active materials" could be controlled by international agreement, nuclear weapons would become "a perpetual menace to human society." And so it has come to pass, notes this international panel of experts commissioned by U.N. Secretary- General Kurt Waldheim. Their study, in which not one of the world's five nuclear powers agreed to participate, rejects in its conclusion the doctrines of deterrence, counterforce and limited nuclear war. The study also includes information on existing nuclear arsenals, trends in the development of nuclear weaponry and an appendix that describes in detail the physical effects of the use of nuclear weapons.

The Theory of the Avant-Garde, by Renato Poggioli; translated from the Italian by Gerald Fitzgerald (Harvard, $6.95). The imperative to "make it new" has been the hallmark of 20th-century art, music and literature. Poggioli's book, first published in English in 1968, was one of the first, and is still among the best, studies of artistic activity based on shock, novelty and alienation, rather than on fixed notions of the beautiful.

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection, edited by E.L. McAdam Jr. and George Milne (Pantheon, $7.95). Once thought of as the coffee-house Kris Kringle of English literature, Dr. Johnson has recently become a more appealing and modern figure, one wracked by depression, repression, hypochondria and real illness, a Grub street hack with a professional writer's facility, a scholar's learning, and a wit's taste for repartee. In this selection from his famous dictionary--virtually the first in the language--one finds sound commonsense, occasional prejudice, plenty of examples, and a taste for striking definition. Network, a famous instance, is memorably if fussily defined as "any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections."

Growing Up Free: Raising Your Child in the 80's, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (Bantam, $8.95). Beware of the sex stereotype. It starts early in a child's life, warns Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founder of Ms. and a consultant to the television special "Free to Be You and Me." Pogrebin has delineated a complex regime to rid all households of incipient sexism. Her suggestions range widely from having fathers do more baby-feeding to tacking up pictures of female sports stars on the refrigerator door. FICTION

The Catherine Wheel, by Jean Stafford (Ecco, $7.95). Best known for her brilliant, Jamesian short stories, which were collected in 1969, Jean Stafford also wrote three novels, Boston Adventure (1944), The Mountain Lion (1947) and The Catherine Wheel (1952), which is the most poetic and symbolic of her works and takes its title and epigraph from Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Of Stafford, Peter Taylor wrote, "Her gifts for language and for 'details' are one and the same gift and inseparable. That is what sets her apart from her contemporaries and makes her the best of us."

Close Relations, by Susan Isaacs (Avon, $2.95). When the New York gubernatorial candidate Marcia Plotnick is working for chokes on a knish and keels over dead, her world suddenly begins hurtling in a different direction. At 35 she finds herself in a new campaign speech-writing job, and in a new relationship with a handsome lawyer named David Hoffmann. Marcia's life blossoms in spite of, and sometimes with the help of, her Jewish family full of well-drawn caricatures.

Pig Earth, by John Berger (Pantheon, $5.95). This is an extraordinary collection of stories, essays and poems about peasant life in France by an Englishman best known for his art criticism. John Berger records in beautiful, lyrical prose the lore of the small French village in which he and his family live, lore that begins as gossip, a word without the usual negative connotations: "The function of this gossip which, in fact, is close, oral, daily history, is to allow the whole village to define itself." In a concluding essay, Berger writes of the importance of peasant life, and of the threats placed upon it by modern society.

Badenheim 1939, by Aharon Appelfeld (Washington Square/Pocket, $3.50). This short novel, which was well received by the critics when it was published last year, is set in a resort for cultured Polish, German and Austrian Jews in the last season before Hitler changed everything forever.

Blue Boy, by Jean Giono (North Point Press, $8.50). This is the third novel by the mystic, pagan Provencal novelist to be beautifully republished by North Point (the others are Joy of Man's Desiring and The Song of the World). Blue Boy (1932) is the fictionalized autobiography of Giono's youth in rural Provence before the First World War.

Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac (McGraw-Hill, $5.95). First published in 1962, this novel by the author of On the Road describes his escape in 1960 from the pressures of fame to a borrowed cabin in California's Big Sur, a spiritual crisis Kerouac underwent there, and a return from the wilds to the wildness of Beat life in San Francisco.