The Inman Diary

PERHAPS the publishing event of the year is the release this month of The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession (Harvard University Press). It is a two-volume distillation of 155 volumes left by Arthur Inman, a rich Southerner who spent most of his adult life in Boston and died in 1963. It is being hailed in some quarters as the greatest American diary. You'll undoubtedly be hearing more about it in coming weeks but we thought we'd have a word with the person who did the seven years' labor of editing the work. He is Daniel Aaron, the Harvard critic-historian.

"It took me a year just to read the whole diary and to do a 1,200-page single-space outline that identified the major themes. The editor -- me -- is actually a character in the diary and Inman provided a barrage of instructions on how the editor should go about his job. It's a history of the times, but the diary is also like a novel, with plots and subplots. It's addressed to the reader and is a plea for fame and recognition. It's no secret diary. Inman was a complicated man, repulsive in many ways, a professional Southerner, anti-Semitic but even more anti-Irish. He said that if there was ever to be a pogrom, he hoped it would get the Irish first.

"I can't begin to tell you about all his oddities. He lived in a darkened room most of the time, but he would ride out regularly in his 1919 Cadillac to see what was happening around Boston and report it. He paid informants to come in and tell him about their lives. He'd put ads in the paper to find them and at the start paid 50 cents an hour. He called them 'diary fodder.' He'd ask if they believed in God, if they took drugs, what their sex lives were like, whether they loved their wives or husbands. Some of these people would give him a lot of verbal abuse over the questions and he would record it. The whole point was to be honest. But he did say that if he was totally and completely honest, he would have no readers at all." The Public Ivys

THERE WAS a wonderful cartoon a few years ago showing a businessman in a three-piece suit, tin cup in hand, standing on a street corner begging. Around his neck was a sign: "Two Kids in College." A book out this month addresses the problem of college tuition. Called The Public Ivys (Viking), it argues that the education at certain public institutions is comparable to that at the Ivy League schools -- at a lot less cost.

The author is Richard Moll, dean of admissions at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and he gives top marks among public institutions to the University of California system, a judgment that, while a teence self- serving, does elicit agreement from many university people I talk to. The other schools in Moll's public top eight are, in order, the universities of: Michigan at Ann Arbor, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Texas at Austin, Virginia at Charlottesville, as well as William & Mary and Miami of Ohio. The high rating Moll gives Vermont will come as a surprise to many, but not the university's president, Lattie Coor, whom I spoke to on the phone the other day.

"We're pleased, but not surprised," says Coor. "For some years, we've had a rate of about seven applicants for every available place and we've had a growing number from the major prep schools." Coor says the university's academic strengths "are in the sciences, with a strong belt in the humanities and social sciences and good programs in electrical engineering and computers." Among the well-known faculty members are historian Raul Hilberg, author of The Destruction of the European Jews, zoologist Bernd Heinrich, who wrote Bumblebee Economics, and George Albee, past president of the American Psychological Association.

The average scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test for this year's freshman class will be about 510 verbal and 570 math. There are about 1,000 places for out-of-state students and 52.7 percent who applied this year were accepted. Costs at Vermont for out-of-staters, including expenses, will run around $12,000, about $5,000 a year less than neighboring Bennington, the nation's most expensive school.

Still, costs are even lower at some of Moll's other favorites. Chapel Hill is about $7,500 and Virginia about $6,700 for out-of- state students, but places are harder to get. A more likely bet might be Miami of Ohio, with costs of about $8,600. Its average SATs this year were 518 verbal and 576 math and it allocates about 850 freshman places for out-of-staters. In the Margin

GREG CONSTANTINE, whose book of funny drawings, Vincent Van Gogh Visits New York, scored a big hit with the art crowd a few years ago, is back this month with a sequel, Leonardo Visits Los Angeles (Knopf). Here, Da Vinci and his chick, Mona Lisa, tool into town in a Mercedes, present an Oscar and are married on TV, after Leo gets a bachelor party from the Last Supper gang. As before, Constantine nicely twins satire of current mores with spoofs of well-known paintings. . . Fifteen years ago this week, when we all were young, Erich Segal's Love Story wallowed atop Book World's best-seller list in fiction, while Dr. David Reuben's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex reigned in the nonfiction category. Ah, the innocence.