Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, translated by N.J. Dawood (Penguin, $6.95). The tales of Sheherazade (spelled Shahrazad in this translation) may be the most delightfully fabulous in all of literature. After all, sorcerers, sultans, grand vizers, genies, rocs and magical lamps are the quintessential stuff of fantasy. Though first appearing in the West in the early 18th century, the tales did not attain their final form in the original Arabic until toward the end of the same century. This crisp and colloquial English version measures up to Penguin's customary high standards.
Black Weather, by Berton Rouech,e (Arbor House, $5.95). The writer of those riveting medical detection pieces for The New Yorker is also that magazine's mystery reviewer and a suspense novelist in his own right. This, his first novel, originally published in 1945, is a taut chiller involving a winsome young couple, their unborn child, and their sinister landlady. NONFICTION
Color New York, by Roxie Munro (Arbor House, $7.95). Whether you color them or not, the pen and ink drawings are stunning renditions of many of the Big Apple's main architectural attractions: The Chelsea Hotel, the Empire State Building, Riverside Drive, the interior of Carnegie Hall, etc. Roxie Monro wields her pen with a sure hand, and her artist's eye captures the gaiety as well as the splendor of New York.
Thereby Hangs A Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins and A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions, by Charles Earle Funk (Harper Colophon, $7.95 and $5.95 respectively). Two delightful volumes by a Funk of Funk & Wagnalls. One of their many virtues is modesty: the author doesn't claim certitude where doubt exists. For example, does the term cynic come from a gymnasium called Cynosarges, where many bright young men used to meet for instruction, or from their "doglike insolence" (the Greek word for dog being cynikos)? Funk presents both possibilities and leaves the choice to the reader. He is more confident about the origin of the expression "to pull the wool over someone's eyes," which is probably the popularity of wool as a material for wigs. "Hence the expression may have originated in a practice, either sportive or malicious, of pulling the wig of some nabob over his eyes to blind him temporarily, perhaps for the purpose of snatching his purse, or perhaps just teasingly."
Caravans to Tartary, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud (Thames and Hudson, $12.95). Here is a book short on text but long on splendid photographs out of the David Lean school of panoramic landscape shots. The Tartrs are nomads who roam the steppes of Afghanistan, Turkey and China, trading such goods as waterskins, wooden chests, wicker-cages and rock salt. For recreation they play a rugged game on horseback in which the object is to gain possession of the stuffed skin of a headless goat. It is a game, say the authors, that "recalls the invasions of the galloping Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine."
Grey Eminence, by Aldous Huxley (Carroll & Graf, $4.95). Though best-known for his witty satirical novels, Aldous Huxley was also a visionary who searched for ways of telling religious truths via enthralling stories. Twice he succeeded in his quest. In The Devils of Loudun, he portrayed religious excess in the harrowing, kinky, and true story of a convent of nuns who caused a priest they had never met to be burned alive for seducing them by diabolical trickery. In Grey Eminence, originally published in 1940, Huxley examines the strange career of Father Joseph, a contemplative priest with intense spiritual longings who put them aside to serve as the power-brokering secretary of Cardinal Richelieu and to help precipitate the Thirty Years War. Though less lurid than The Devils, Grey Eminence is a fascinating meditation on history and religion.
The Battle for Gaul, by Julius Caesar, translated by Anne and Peter Wiseman, with illustrations selected by Barry Cunliffe (Godine, $12.95). All Gaul is no longer divided into three parts. Rather, as these translators would have it, "Gaul as a whole consists of three separate parts." With the help of a splendid sprinkling of photographs, maps, and drawings, including several full-color plates, the Wisemans seem to have pulled off the impossible: making Caesar, the bane of fledgling Latin students, a pleasure to read.
When the Going Was Good and A Little Learning, by Evelyn Waugh (Little, Brown, $7.95 each). The author of Brideshead Revisited also wrote travel books -- four of them between 1929 and 1935 -- and an incomplete autobiography. When the Going Was Good gathers five long episodes from Waugh's travels, including his coverage of Haile Selassie's coronation as emperor of Ethiopia. As always, Waugh is an incomparable stylist with a keen eye for the colorful, including "Galla dancers who seemed to dislocate their shoulders, and sweated so heartily that our host was able to plaster their foreheads with banknotes." A Little Learning takes the master only through his early twenties, but that, of course, includes the period that Anglophile couch potatoes find most fascinating: the years at Oxford. MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE
The Crooked Hinge, by John Dickson Carr (Collier, $3.50). Among great detectives, perhaps only Nero Wolfe can compare in size and ingenuity with Dr. Gideon Fell. Connoisseurs of Fell's exploits generally agree that his finest exercise in ratiocination occurs in The Three Coffins -- perhaps the most dazzling of all locked-room murders. But this novel is nearly as good, with its hints of supernatural creatures, mysterious closets, witchcraft, and long-planned revenge.
The Specialists and The Girl with the Long Green Heart, both by Lawrence Block (Foul Play Press, $3.95 each). First Ross Macdonald, then John D. MacDonald, most recently Elmore Leonard -- each emerged into best-sellerdom after years as terrific, if underappreciated, thriller writers. Lawrence Block's time may be rolling round at last: Eight Million Ways to Die will soon be a movie; this year Block won an Edgar for short fiction; and his light-hearted novels, featuring burglar/bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr, make him fans wherever books are read. For the newly avid, Foul Play has been reissuing many of Block's earlier novels, most recently this pair: st is an elaborate caper featuring five ex-soldiers against a big-time hood, the second a novel about a scam, a beautiful girl and some worthless property in Canada. Both are efficient models of their kind.