"THE WORST thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones." Doesn't that complaint sound contemporary? Actually, it was written a couple of centuries ago, and its originator, a French moralist named Joseph Joubert, didn't have the American fall publishing schedule to contend with! Year in and year out, he didn't have to face bookstores where the avalanche of autumn shipments buries everything in its path.

In 1984, as M. Joubert might have said, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, and a quick glance at what's about to land on us this season reveals, among others: Louis L'Amour's first nonfiction, Frontier (Bantam/Nov.); The Whole Earth Software Catalogue (Quantum/Doubleday/Oct.); a Maurice Sendak-illustrated Nutcracker (Crown/Nov.); Joseph Heller's new novel, God Knows, about the Biblical King David (Knopf/Oct.); life at 60 Minutes in Close Encounters by newsman Mike Wallace (Morrow/Sept.); V.S. Naipaul's autobiographical Finding the Center: Two Narratives (Knopf/Sept.); and Graham Greene on Panama's late Omar Torrijos, Getting to Know the General (Simon and Schuster/- Sept.).

Andrew Tobias' latest financial advice can be found in Money Angles (Linden/Nov.), while The Facts of Life will pop up in a three-dimensional study by Jonathan Miller and David Pelham (Viking/Oct.). In time for the real event comes The Game: The Harvard-Yale Football Rivalry, 1875-1983 by Thomas G. Bergin (Yale/Nov.); for baseball fans, there's Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock (Putnam/Oct.). The man who put oral histories on the publishing map, Studs Terkel, has compiled "The Good War" (Pantheon/Oct.), about World War II, while Kenneth Libo and Irving Howe offer We Lived There Too: A Documentary History of Pioneer Jews and the Westward Movement of America 1630- 1930 (St. Martin's/Marek/Nov.). Jane Fonda makes a pitch to Women Coming of Age, (S and S/Oct.); along with her this season in the celebrity beauty-fitness-and-primping genre are Victoria Principal, Jaclyn Smith, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch and Marisa Berenson. Even a comedian is taking a piece of the action -- No Sweat! The David Brenner Exercise Book (Arbor/Nov.).

Richard Reeves traveled to Pakistan and wrote Passage to Peshawar (S and S/Oct.); set nearby, but fictional, is M. M. Kaye's mystery, Death in Kashmir (St. M/Oct.). British novelist Beryl Bainbridge has retraced the late J. B. Priestley's footsteps across their country in a book bearing the same name as his '30s classic, English Journey (Braziller/Sept.), which itself has just been rereleased by the University of Chicago in a special jubilee edition. There's Jessamyn West's last novel, The State of Stony Lonesome (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Oct.), and Michael J. Arlen's first, Say Goodbye to Sam (Farrar Straus Giroux/Sept.). Naturalist David Attenborough explores The Living Planet (Little, BrownOct.), observing how plants and animals have adapted, while in City of Scandals: Washington Waste Exposed (LB/Sept.) columnist and radio commentator Donald Lambro looks at a different kind of adaptive behavior. DELUGE OF NOVELS

TOM ROBBINS reportedly has called Jitterbug Perfume (Bantam/Dec.) his "Michener novel" -- he may be teasing, but there's no competition from the real thing, not this season, anyway. However, on the fiction shelves look for Arthur Hailey's Strong Medicine (Doubleday/Oct.), about the pharmaceutical industry, Andr,e Dubus' Voices from the Moon (Godine/Sept.), portraying a Catholic boyhood, John Jakes' second volume in the North and South trilogy about the Civil War, Love and War (HBJ/Nov), Lisa Alther's novel about therapy, Other Women (Knopf/Sept.), James Carroll's The Prince of Peace, a story of love and heroism (LB/Sept.), and Vassily Aksyonov's satirical The Burn (Random House/Houghton Mifflin/Oct.). Also, there will be Nicholas von Hoffman's Depression-era Organized Crimes (Harper & Row/Nov.), Ross Thomas' new thriller Briarpatch (S and S/Nov.), Thomas McGuane's Something to be Desired (RH/Oct.), about a man's helpless passion, Elie Wiesel's The Fifth Son (Summit/Oct.), D. M. Thomas' intricate and sexy Swallow (Viking/Nov), and a piece of rediscovered early Faulkner, Father Abraham (RH/Oct.).

Alison Lurie is back on familiar ground with Foreign Affairs (RH/Sept.), treating the odd romance between two academics, and Doris Grumbach presents the story of a pair of 18th-century Irish gentlewomen in The Ladies (Dutton/Sept.). Stephen King and Peter Straub have collaborated on The Talisman (Viking/Nov.), while inspirational author Catherine Marshall has written her first novel since the best-selling Christy -- called Julie, it's due from McGraw-Hill in October. And there's a new James Bond from John Gardner -- Role of Honor (Putnam/Sept.).

Others with soon-available novels include David Plante, Paula Fox, Michael Mooroock, Norma Klein, James Grady, Helen MacInnes, Ivan Doig, Marilyn Sharp, Han Suyin, Allen Drury, Jack Vance, Mignon G. Eberhart, Hilary Masters, Rita Kashner, Frederick Busch, Martha Grimes, Joan D. Vinge, Simon Brett, Philipp van Rjndt, Michael Z. Lewin, John Godey and Andrea Lee. Story collections, though, don't seem to be in abundance, but one does note E.L. Doctorow's Lives of the Poets: Six Stories and a Novella (RH/Nov.), from North Point Press, Guy Davenport's dextrous Apples and Pears and Other Stories (Nov), and the two short romans noirs Paul Theroux is releasing in one volume called Half Moon Street (Houghton Mifflin/Oct.). Among the poets with new books due are Peter Davison, Adrienne Rich, James Tate, Seamus Heaney, Rod McKuen, and there's a collected Allen Ginsberg for the first time. HEAPS OF NONFICTION

BACK to try and repeat their earlier hits are Andy Rooney (Pieces of My Mind) and Judith Martin (Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children), both October titles for Atheneum, a house celebrating its first quarter-century this year. Dutton has high hopes for a repeat, too: after quite a lengthy interval, Kenneth Anger has come up with Hollywood Babylon II (Oct.). Looking to a different company town, Detroit, there's no mistaking the subject of Iacocca: An Autobiography (Bantam/Nov.), while another mega-executive, Harold Geneen of ITT, is publishing Managing (Doubleday/Oct.). And executive J. Peter Grace, the head of President Reagan's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, has a book, too -- Burning Money: The Waste of Your Tax Dollars (Macmillan/Sept.).

William Weaver, the distinguished translator of The Name of the Rose, has written Duse, a life of the Divine Eleanora (HBJ/Sept.), and he's also the translator on Umberto Eco's latest, Postcript to the Name of the Rose (HBJ/Nov.), which gives the author a chance to reflect on that novel's enormous, unexpected success. Edward O. Wilson's publisher, Harvard University Press, is calling that sociobiologist's Biophilia (Oct.) "his most personal book." And personal, too, is how to describe Peter Schwed's insider's look at Simon and Schuster, Turning the Pages (Mac/Oct.). (Schwed, the chairman emeritus of the S and S editorial board, has been with the company 50 years.)

"Intimate," however, might be a better word for H.G. Wells in Love (LB/Oct.), the famous writer and ladies' man's never-before-released erotic memoirs. Also on the Little, Brown list one finds Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? -- by an odd couple, entertainer Alan King and food critic Mimi Sheraton (Oct.) -- as well as another food collaboration, Eating Together: Recipes and Recollections by the late Lillian Hellman and her friend, writer Peter Feibleman (Oct.). Jill Krementz adds to her series of photographic explorations of children's feelings, How It Feels When Parents Divorce (Knopf/Oct.), and there are new volumes on taking care of what ails us from such medical men as Christiaan Barnard, Lendon Smith, T. Barry Brazelton and William A. Nolen. Over at Norton they have The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (Oct.) from Christopher Lasch, the man who made "narcissism" a buzz word. PILES OF POLITICAL BOOKS

ONE IMPORTANT new title is Strobe Talbot's Deadly Games (Knopf/Oct), about the state of arms negotiations under Reagan, while elder statesman George F. Kennan has The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia and the Coming of the First World War (Pantheon/Sept.). Other books exploring foreign policy areas include: The Myth of Soviet Military Supremacy by Tom Gervasi (Norton/Oct.), Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment Before the Two World Wars edited by Ernest R. May (Princeton/Oct.), Survival is Not Enough by Richard Pipes (S and S/Nov.), Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History Since 1917 by Stephen F. Cohen (Oxford/Oct.) and Nemesis: Truman and Johnson in the Coils of the War with Asia by Robert J. Donovan (St. M/Marek/Oct). Certain to be controversial is a book by the former director of Israel's Government Press Office, Ze'ev Chafets' Double Vision: How America's Press Distorts Our View of the Middle East (Morrow/Oct.).

Among books treating national topics are columnist R. Emmett Tyrell's ominously named The Liberal Crackup (S and S/Nov.), Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advisers by University of Maryland professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Oxford/Sept.), Alvin Toffler's The Adaptive Corporation on the AT&T break-up (McGraw/Oct.), The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford Lytle (Pantheon/Oct.), PAC Power: Inside the World of Political Action Committees by Larry J. Sabato (Norton/Sept.) and The Economic Illustration: False Choices Between Prosperity and Social Justice by Robert Kuttner (HM/Sept.). Forevermore by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele (Norton/Nov.) examines the problem of nuclear waste disposal in the United States.

In Quiet Neighbors (HBJ/Oct.) author Allan A. Ryan, former director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, writes about prosecuting Nazi war criminals in America. The Insanity Defense and the Trial of John W. Hinckley, Jr. (Godine/Oct.) is by Lincoln Caplan, while veteran Sunpapers staffer Bradford Jacobs has written Thimbleriggers: The Law v. Governor Marvin Mandel (Johns Hopkins/Oct.). Former Boston mayor Kevin White, one more pol who knows trouble, is the subject of George V. Higgins' Style Versus Substance: Boston, Kevin White, and the Politics of Illusion (Mac/Oct.). And John Cooney has looked closely at The American Pope: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman (Times/Oct.), a book already making waves in Church circles. As for military history, there's In Love and War by Jim and Sybil Stockdale (Harper/Oct.), about their ordeal when he was a Vietnam POW, The American War with Japan by Ronald Spector (Mac/Nov.), A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge by Charles B. MacDonald (Morrow/Nov.) and Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring by the late Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (McGraw/Oct.). MANY BIOGRAPHIES, MANY OTHERS

IN Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered (Oxford/Oct.) William H. Pritchard studies the interaction between the poet's life and work. Writing Lives: Principia Biographica (Norton/Oct.) lets Leon Edel look at his career as a chronicler of the lives of others. Copland 1900-1942 is by the venerable American composer himself along with Vivian Perlis (St.M/Marek/Sept.). Paleontologist Richard Leakey gives us One Life: An Autobiography (Salem House/Oct.), Margot Fonteyn presents Pavlova: Portrait of a Dancer (VikingOct.) and David Freeman, who was there, remembers The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock (Overlook/Oct.). (For buffs, this book contains the complete screenplay, The Short Night, which Hitch was working on at his death.) There are two books coming up called Dynasty, but only one is about the nighttime soap; the other is a history subtitled The Astors and Their Times, by David Sinclair (Beaufort/Sept.).

Van Halen, Louis XV, Menachim Begin, Little Richard, William Saroyan, T.S. Eliot, Mark Clark, Fred Astaire, James Dean, Renata Scotto, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Louise Bogan, Mr. T. and Connie Francis rate a book each this 1984 season. However, Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich get two bios each. Books about Jane Austen, Janet Leigh, Norman Mailer, Frank Sinatra and Mabel Dodge Luhan are also in the offing. Moving next from people to machines, one finds Three Degrees Above Zero: Bell Labs in the Information Age by Jeremy Bernstein (Scribner's/Sept.), The Ultimate Game by Tom Zito (NortonOct.), on the entrepreneurs of the personal computer, and Frank Rose's Into the Heart of the Mind (Harper/Sept.), a look at the narrow, obsessive world of artificial intelligence development.

There are going to be collections of essays by William Gass, Marguerite Yourcenar, John Barth and Gilbert Sorrentino, to name four, and Herblock is treating his public to a group of recent cartoons (Herblock Through the Looking Glass/deman, winner of the Pen-Faulkner award, describes prison life in Brothers and Keepers (XXXXXXXXX). Norman Vincent Peale offers The True Joy of Positive Living (Morrow/Sept.), Leo Buscaglia has Loving Each Other (Holt/Sept.) and Richard Bach tells of his quest for a soulmate in The Bridge Across Forever (Morrow/Sept.). Artist Michael Hague has turned his talents this season to an illustrated edition of The Hobbit (HM/Oct.), and for less-than-serious art-lovers there's Miss Piggy's Treasury of Art Masterpieces from the Kermitage Collection, edited by Henry Beard (Holt/Sept.). All Japan is an encyclopedic catalogue of "everything Japanese," with an introduction by Oliver Statler (Morrow/Oct), and Maryland Times Exposures: 1840-1940 by Mame Warren and Marion E. Warren (Hopkins/Nov.) is a photographic history of the century in that state.

There are also histories of movie special effects, male dancers, the D'Oyly Carte Company, Playbill magazine and new cookbooks from Madeleine Kamman, Lee Bailey, Pierre Franey and Diana Kennedy. For armchair tourists, Herman Viola has written The National Archives of the United States (Abrams/Oct.), with an introduction by historian David McCullough, and another McCullough intro is in Smithsonian World (S and S/Nov.). But, while the air is thick with these names and titles, be reassured that a number of shoppers will simply reach for one new book: the long- awaited (but did anyone know it was coming?) sequel to William Steig's beloved book of language jokes, CDB! Due from Farrar Straus and Giroux in November is CDC! with more of those inimitable Steig drawings.