FICTION

When She Was Good, The Professor of Desire, The Great American Novel, My Life as a Man, The Breast and Reading Myself and Others (nonfiction), by Philip Roth (Penguin, $5.95, except for the last two, which are $4.95 and $6.95 respectively). It is now 26 years since Philip Roth burst onto the literary scene with Goodbye, Columbus. Now 15 books into his career, Roth is one of a handful of living American novelists who can be called great. His prose -- witty, intelligent and ingeniously delicate even when he handles subjects once considered impossibly crude -- is one of the marvels of the age. Here are five novels full of stylish chutzpah and a collection of essays, revealing this author's passionate engagement with his craft. They might be considered the foothills to Roth's undoubted masterpiece, the Zuckerman trilogy, reissued earlier this year as Zuckerman Bound.

The Grey Beginning, by Barbara Michaels (Tor, $3.50). A young woman tries to recover from the death of her husband while visiting his ancestral home in Tuscany. Instead she finds herself caught in a labyrinth in which nothing is as it seems. Has her husband really been killed in a tragic automobile accident? Or is he haunting her here at the villa where his grandmother lives? This is one of Barbara Michael's most gripping gothics, with some memorable characters -- from a diffident Italian countess to an endearing 10-year-old boy. NONFICTION

Out of the Forties, by Nicholas Lemann (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, $12.95). This fascinating collection of photographs was commissioned by Standard Oil of New Jersey in the mid-'40s and assembled by one of the century's masters of photographic record -- Roy Stryker. Nicholas Lemann's intelligent text updates the photographs, which portray a more innocent and less prosperous America. One Writer's Beginnings, by Eudora Welty (Warner, $3.50). The doyenne of southern letters remembers her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi -- particularly the qualities which shaped her into the writer she is today. What she remembers most vividly are sounds -- the sounds of the striking clocks, which her father collected, the sounds of her parents' voices as they read to her, her mother's voice as she sang, the ringing of Miss Duling's bell as she called her students into Davis School every morning. Welty's ear was atune to the rhythm and tone of life around her, life that she would later spin into her wonderful stories. Her account of childhood, her observations of the adults around her, her sense of domesticity, its love and its secrets, make for a polished gem of autobiography.

Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring, by Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (McGraw-Hill, $4.95). Richard Sorge was a German journalist in Tokyo from the 1930s into the World War II years. In reality he was a Soviet spy. He provided the crucial information to Stalin that Japan was not going to attack Russia's Far East, thereby enabling the Russians to transfer troops to counterattack Hitler in 1941-42. Its rear secure, the Red Army slowly bled the German juggernaut to death.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings, by Thomas DeQuincey (Oxford, $5.95). De Quincey is the prototypical romantic: he became a drug addict, shook the habit, and wrote about it. Indeed, perhaps only Aldous Huxley has written as well about drug-induced experiences. Here is De Quincey, for example, distinguishing between intoxication and the opium high: "whereas wine disorders the mental faculties, opium, on the contrary (if taken in a proper manner), introduces amongst them the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony. Wine robs a man of his self-possession; opium greatly invigorates it." This volume also contains his celebrated essay, "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth," and other writings -- all of them in the original, uncut versions.

The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries, by Christopher Hill (Penguin/Peregrine, $7.95). In his books Christopher Hill, England's foremost authority on the tempestuous 17th century, has charted the triumph of Cromwell and the ideas which gave rise to his quest for power. But Cromwell's reign was relatively brief, and all those small religious and political groups which had helped establish the Interregnum and subsequently tried to perpetuate its radical spirit, fell with him. This fascinating little book gives an account of what finally happened to the Levellers, the Diggers, the Ranters, the Muggletonians, various Puritan ministers, the Quakers (the only group which thrived and flourished after the Interregnum), and finally Milton, who threw his lot in with the Puritans and then faced their defeat.

Payback, by Joe Klein (Ballantine, $3.95). Some 15 years after engaging in combat, a Vietnam veteran ran amok in reaction to the fuss being made over the return of the Americans held hostage in Iran and was gunned down by police in Hammond, Indiana. This outburst prompted reporter Joe Klein to write an article on the dead man and the tendency for Vietnam vets to boil over with rage. One Marine led to another, and Klein, who himself had been safely exempted from service, decided to investigate the post- Vietnam lives of five grunts, the largely working- class men who did the fighting. This respectful, intimate, and profound book is the result.

Walt Whitman: The Making of a Poet, by Paul Zweig (Basic Books, $8.95). "Few poets have written as erotically as Whitman," the late Paul Zweig comments in this examination of the poetic process, "while having so little to say about sex." Victorian- era reticence about sex generally, reinforced by Whitman's homosexuality, undoubtedly deterred him from practicing the candor he might have preferred. At any rate, Zweig notes, the good gray poet's eroticism is analogous to "the Tantric hymns of India or the erotic swoons of Saint Theresa." This thoughtful study attempts to solve the mystery of how an ordinary young editor, who gave off no sparks of "immature but struggling genius," became the greatest of American poets. POETRY

The Maximus Poems, by Charles Olson (University of California Press, $17.95; hardcover, $30). There are supposed to be four great modern American epics: Pound's Cantos, Williams' Paterson, Zukofsky's "A" and Olson's series of 300 "letters" and "songs" about Gloucester, Massachusetts, his "glowing city" linked to the ancient Tyre, and at the same time a microcosm of contemporary America. This is its definitive edition, edited by the poet's friend and student, George Butterick. Olson (1910-1970) is one of the really pivotal figures in contemporary American culture, because of his leadership of the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1951- 1956, which brought together an extraordinary group of avant-garde artists: composer John Cage, dancer Merce Cunningham, artists Josef Albers and Robert Rauschenberg, the architect and futurist Buckminister Fuller and poets Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan.

Early Light, by W.S. Di Piero (University of Utah Press, $7.95). John Ashbery says Di Piero weaves gold thread from straw. A nice encomium, but no nicer than Di Piero's poetry students at Stanford toss their teacher's way. In this collection, his poems are all lyric poems, about the odd ways of grace and desire, and about the quick changings of want into plenty, and of gift into deprivation: "Prayer merely happens,/ a visit, unquestioned,/ a power outside the house/ that suddenly fills each room. . . . It takes from me everything/ I never knew I had,/ and gives more than enough/ of that which has no use, a bounty announced inside,/ figure ground of sun on pond,/ the heavens on the floor."

Milton; Dryden; Pope; Wordsworth; Coleridge; Byron; Keats; Shelley; Tennyson; Arnold (Penguin, between $3.95 and $5.95 each). Anyone wishing to acquire a basic home library of the major English poets might well consider these handsome paperbacks, the foundation of the Penguin Poetry Library. Each is compiled by a poet or scholar (Kathleen Raine on Coleridge, Laurence Lerner on Milton), includes about 200-300 pages of verse (and sometimes prose as in the case of Pope and Coleridge), and is uniform with its brothers in appearance and low price. Without the armor of scholarly annotation, these volumes invite modern readers to do the one thing they almost never do with poetry -- read it for pleasure.

The Lost World, by Randall Jarrell (Collier/Macmillan, $7.95). This paperback reissue of Jarrell's finest and -- alas -- final collection of poems opens with a memoir by Mary Jarrell and an appreciation by Robert Lowell, both as moving as they are informative about a much-loved modern poet. The poems, of course, remain the kind that anyone, not only a professor, might read for pleasure -- nostalgic, even sentimental, but also wise, heartbreaking and funny. "But be, as you have been, my happiness;/ Let me sleep beside you, each night, like a spoon;/ When, starting from my dreams, I groan to you,/ May your I love you send me back to sleep./ At morning bring me, grayer for its mirroring,/ The heaven's sun perfected in your eyes."