A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter (North Point, $7.50). In lists of neglected classics one of the most frequently mentioned is Salter's hauntingly beautiful novel A Sport and a Pastime, now reissued in this handsome paperback; Reynolds Price has stated simply that it is "as nearly perfect as any American fiction I know." The praise is absolutely deserved, as readers will discover when they enter this erotic dream -- an account of the love affair between an American college drop-out and a young French girl -- that is also a tour-de-force in the use of tense, point of view, and narrative voice. Its spirit -- the ache and artistry of Scott Fitzgerald filtered through the cool sensibility of Flaubert or James -- evokes France, missed opportunities, all the fugitive beauty of youth.
English Creek, by Ivan Doig (Penguin, $$5.95). It is the summer of 1939 in Montana, a place where high mountains and primeval forests march across the horizon. A teen-age boy discovers that the pangs of first love can rupture family ties and that one's behavior has a significance years later. This novel by a master storyteller (This House of Sky and The Sea Runners) also has a grand rodeo, colorful cowhands, a sensational forest fire and, best of all, a sure feel for the glories of Big Sky country. NONFICTION
The WPA Guide to America: The Best of 1930s America As Seen by the Federal Writers' Project, edited by Bernard A. Weisberger (Pantheon, $14.95). One of the lesser known monuments to the New Deal is the series of 48 state and three city guidebooks produced by the Works Progress Administration as one way of helping unemployed writers and editors. Through description and local color, the series vividly portrays the very diverse country which existed before war, prosperity and television began to homogenize American life. This volume of excerpts can only skim the surface of the originals -- yet it is a reader's romp. Fact: in 1934 you could stay at the Plaza Hotel in New York for $8 a night. And: "In Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) the John B. Macy House stands square and cream-colored in a plot of weeds. Macy, promoter of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, died in 1856 when the steamer Niagara burned within sight of Port Washington. Wearing a money belt filled with gold, Macy jumped from the blazing deck to a crowded lifeboat, capsized it and drowned himself and all its occupants."
The Whole Earth Software Catalogue, edited by Stewart Brand (Quantum/Doubleday,ponnolly demonstrated the enviable gift of sheer readability; his voice was that of the consummate, indolent connoisseur, but what he said proved invariably fresh or infuriating, never dull. Virtually every figure of the "Modern" movement earns at least a page or two here, with extra attention to the giants: Proust, Eliot, Hemingway, Gide. A perfect bedside book for anyone of a literary turn of mind.
The Death of a President: November 20-November 25, 1963, by William Manchester (Arbor House, $10.95). It is hard to convey the emotional impact of this book when it was first published 20 years ago. Distinguished by its reporting of events believed too damaging to be aired publicly in that more discreet time -- notably in the efforts by local lawmen to keep the slain president's body in Texas and in the confrontation between Kennedy and Johnson loyalists afterward -- Manchester's work remains without question the best account in print of the assassination. If it is not more popular, it is because to contemporaries the events described are still too painful and depressing. CHILDREN'S
Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to Poetry, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy (Little, Brown, $6.95). Charming, delightful, witty, a treasure of a book -- the superlatives come easily to mind on inspection of this anthology of verse for children. From William Blake ("To see a world") to Bob Dylan ("Blowing in the Wind"), the poems here indeed knock at stars, as the title proclaims. Two quick selections: the anonymous "Algy" -- Algy met a bear,/ The bear met Algy./ The bear was bulgy,/ The bulge was Algy"; and Stephen Vincent Ben,et's "Daniel Boone, 1735-1820" -- When Daniel Boone goes by, at night,/ The phantom deer arise/ And all lost, wild America/ Is burning in their eyes."
When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode (Dutton/Unicorn, $3.95; ages 4-8). This account of a young girl's life with her grandparents in their mountain hollow home is poetic, simple and eloquent. Grandfather is a miner, grandmother a keeper of the homefires. They, the girl, and her little brother, live in a kind of Eden- like world, broached only once by a snake, which the grandmother kills smartly with a hoe. The combination of Cynthia Rylant's story and Diane Goode's glowing illustrations earned this book a Caldecott Honor award in 1985.