OPENING the fall announcements issue of Publishers Weekly each year is like being poised at the top of a roller coaster: you know everything's going to go by in a whirl but that the ride has to end, sometime. Meanwhile, there are a lot of books.
The ads are where the action is. Stacked up front, alphabetically, engorging the normally svelte trade journal, they mirror the hopes of hundreds of authors and editors. In 1981 there were 277 pages of Publishers' advertisements; this year there are slightly fewer, 253, beginning with Abingdon (An Illustrated Life of Jesus, using reproductions from the National Gallery) and ending with Yale University Press (The Last Country Houses by Clive Aslet, to follow their success with the several Mark Girouard books, Like The English Country House). In between, you won't find Judge Crater's memoirs or Count Leo Tolstoy's Pirogi Cookbook -- at least, not this year -- but let's not quibble. Every Christmas selling season, it seems, publishers reinvent the wheel, and the industry, experiencing mass amnesia, kicks into high gear.
Anyone might tell you that there's going to be a new Kurt Vonnegut novel this year (Deadeye Dick, Delacorte) or new Ann Beattie short stories (collected in The Burning House, Knopf), a new Pauline Kael collection (5001 Nights at the Movies, Holt) or a new Judith Krantz confection (Mistral's Daughter, Crown). (This last, scheduled for January, will probably turn up in bookstores by the time you set your clocks back.) You might have even heard already on the grapevine that Hamilton Jordan's account of the last year of Jimmy Carter's presidency (Crisis, Putnam) has mightily surprised hardened readers whose expectations of the former aide's writing talents were, shall we say, minimal. But there are other ways to look at the whizzing, swirling, pleading pages (Buy me# Read me# Review me#). One can shun the obvious Important Titles and opt for a little idiosyncracy.