Voyage in the Dark and Wide Sargasso Sea, both by Jean Rhys (Norton, $3.95 each). Jean Rhys' career is an object-lesson for all those who dream of a literary life. Taken up by Ford Madox Ford -- who provided the model for a main character of her early novel, Quarter -- she first published a collection of well-received stories. These were followed by several relatively ignored novels, and then silence. Thirty years later Francis Wyndham rediscovered her work, wrote about it, got people to read it; but as she said subsequently, just before her death a few years afterwards, the recognition had come too late. Through her resigned, emotionally unexpressive tone, her self-aware heroines used by men they can't help loving, her feel for the down-and-out in Europe, and her memories of the Caribbean, she creates a universe as distinctive as that of any modern novelist. But who knows what she might have gone on to do, given the acclaim she merited?
The Castle and The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Sketches, by Franz Kafka; translated by Willa and Edwin Muir (Schocken, $5.95 each). If one were asked what single word best describes the 20th century, a good answer might be "kafkaesque." These two reissues permit one to return to the source of that adjective; the first is one of Kafka's two major novels, the second includes his most notable shorter pieces, among them the title story, "The Judgment," and most famous of all, "The Metamorphosis" with its celebrated opening: "As Gregory Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
Macho Camacho's Beat, by Luis Rafael Sanchez; translated by Gregory Rabassa (Avon/Bard, $3.50). How do they do it? Marquez, Cabrera Infante, Puig, and a dozen other Latin American writers continue to produce the most exciting fiction now going. To this number should be added Sanchez and this novel, a portrait of Puerto Rico as seen in four characters: a high government official caught in a traffic jam, his wife on an analyst's couch, his son (who loves his sports car), and his impoverished mistress. Through all their lives runs the syncopated lyric "Life is a phenomenal thing" and a depiction of the trashy, neon world of Americanized San Juan. Filled with rhymes and wordplay, the novel is magically translated by Rabassa. NONFICTION
Studies in Art, Architecture and Design: Victorian and After, by Nikolaus Pevsner (Princeton University, $15, hardcover, $42). Pevsner, the great historian of 19th and early 20-century design, has collected here the essays and articles he wrote for various reviews and journals between 1939 and 1965. They cover a multitude of subjects: the work of Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris, Gordon Russell, as well as the design of tableware, furniture, churches and houses. The book is amply illustrated with drawings and photographs of many buildings and objects which must have shocked our ancestors, and still, to a surprising degree, look modern today.
La Rochefoucauld: Maxims, translated with an introduction by Leonard Tancock (Penguin, $4.95). This book, along with Pascal's Pensees and Montaigne's essays, defines the French mind -- skeptical, self-aware, accepting, ironic, analytic, passionately intelligent. Aldous Huxley found it the perfect travel book -- small enough to carry comfortably, but packed with enough thought and drama for years of reflection. "Out virtues are usually only vices in disguise." "You can find women who have never had a love affair, but seldom women who have had only one." A delicious book.
The Adventurer: The Fate of Adventure in the Western World, by Paul Zweig (Princeton, $5.95). What a wonderful subject! And one just as wonderfully explored. Every man, and probably every woman, has yearned for adventures, but why? What is it that we hope to find out there, away from society, on our own? And why has the adventurer seemingly disappeared? Zweig examines the history and mythology, as well as the psychological attraction, of the life of adventure, taking in figures from Odysseus and Robinson Crusoe to Casanova and T. E. Lawrence.
Alice James: A Biography, by Jean Strouse (Bantam/Windstone, $4.95). At least since F. O. Matthiessen published The James Family three decades ago readers have been aware that Alice James was more than just the sister of two famous brothers. But it has taken Strouse in this masterly biography to bring her to life -- her mysticism and neurasthenia, her relations to Henry and William, her uncertain sense of self-worth, her diary. Here is a biography for anyone interested in American letters, the history of women, or the Jameses.