Household Words, by Joan Silber (Penguin, $5.95). Well-regarded by critics when it first appeared, Household Words is the story of a woman's domestic life over two decades: the birth of her children, her husband's death, and her widowhood. Her life is in no way extraordinary, but Joan Silber's deft characterizations and brisk narrative make for a compelling book.
Born in Exile, The Emancipated, and Will Warburton by George Gissing (Hogarth, $6.95 each). George Gissing (1857-1903) was the original angry young man. The son of a pharmacist, he considered himself unjustly excluded from the British upper classes despite his intelligence and natural refinement. After the abrupt end of his education (his school booted him for stealing money from fellow students in order to reform a promiscuous, working- class woman he had become involved with), he fled to Chicago, where he almost starved. He turned to writing and produced a string of highly-regarded but not terribly successful novels, of which New Grub Street -- about the low repute in which England holds its writers -- is the most famous. These three, all written late in his career, comprise variations on the outsider theme. The Emancipated concerns a young English widow taking The Grand Tour and running into a more impassioned kind of Englishman abroad; Born in Exile features an intellectual trying to shed his working-class origins; Will Warburton is a gentleman compelled by circumstances to stoop to a trade. Next to Thomas Hardy, perhaps no other English novelist worked the late Victorian era so comprehensively and well. NONFICTION
The Image of the Architect, by Andrew Saint (Yale University Press, $8.95). From the medieval "masters" who worked in relative obscurity with teams of craftsmen to fashion the great cathedrals of Europe, to the romantic figure of the architect as hero represented by Frank Lloyd Wright, our image of those who design our buildings says much about what we value in ourselves and our surroundings. In this interesting study of the architect's place in society, Andrew Saint concentrates on the last 200 years of architectural history and the careers of a few greats such as Wright and Gropius, as well as architects like Charles Bulfinch and Wallace K. Harrison, who gave their architectural stamp to their hometown cities of Boston and New York, respectively.
The Pentagon and the Art of War, by Edward N. Luttwak (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, $8.95). "Vast sums of money, and the true dedication of many have gone into the upkeep of American military power, only to yield persistent failure in the conduct of war and an unfavorable balance of strength for safeguarding the peace," begins this engagingly written and provocative indictment of the present command structure of the armed forces by a leader of the military reform movement. Essential reading for all those interested in the national defense.
Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, by Morris J. MacGregor Jr. (Government Printing Office, $19). This history (incorrectly titled in our issue of Dec. 29) is the authoritative account of the collapse of the barriers to black Americans' full participation in the nation's armed forces. It traces in considerable and fascinating detail the changing status of black servicemen from the eve of World War II, when they were excluded from many military activities and segregated in the rest, to the 1960s, when the services became a powerful engine for social change.
Dickens from Pickwick to Dombey by Steven Marcus (Norton, $6.95). Steven Marcus, who teaches at Columbia, is a specialist in the Victorian era, the first half of which Dickens encompassed more thoroughly than any other novelist -- and it was the grand era of the novelist. Centered on the novels written in the first half of Dickens' career, this critical study is full of insights and connections. "The prose of Martin Chuzzlewit was all bugles and trumpets," Marcus writes, "and represents one of the few instances of successful bravura in the history of the novel." And he frames a nice comparison between England's two most fecund imaginations: "One of the most instructive things about Dickens's development is that, like Shakespeare, he had an impulse to begin writing his next work in the middle of the one he was currently engaged upon."
Voices 1870-1914, by Peter Vansittart (Avon/Discus, $4.95). This is a commonplace book with a twist. Arranged in chronological order, the entries were uttered by scores of personages, whose letters, speeches, diaries, and quips provide a running, multi- voiced commentary on the lull between two wars, the Franco-Prussian and the First World ar. Here is what Bismarck had to say about Queen Victoria: "That was a woman! One could do business with her." Here is the beginning of a plea from British India: "To the Almighty God, care of the Rt. Hon. Mountstuart E. Grant-Duff." And here is Henry James on London: "It is difficult to speak adequately, or justly, of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent."
Michael Caine's Almanac of Amazing Information (St. Martin's, $7.95). The first amazing piece of information is that the actor Michael Caine is a collector of odd facts and figures -- it helps kill the time between roles, he says. Arranged according to the calendar year -- the birth or death day of famous people, the season for natural phenomena -- this book is eminently browsable. Did you know that "Flamingos have to hold their heads upside down to eat"? Next time you pour yourself a cuppa, be aware that "The annual harvest of an entire coffee tree is needed to produce just one pound of coffee." Here is a fact for the present season: "Ten percent of the salt mined in the world each year is usd to de-ice the roads in America." And what could be more trivial than this item: "The major export of Liechtenstein is false teeth." CHILDREN'S
With the Indians in the Rockies; The Quest of the Fish-Dog Skin; Sinopah, the Indian Boy, by James Willard Schultz (Beaufort, $7.95 each; all ages). Schultz was one of those white men who feel more comfortable with the primitive life than with civilization: "How I hated the amenities and conventions of society," he wrote. Born in New York, he lived most of his life among the Blackfeet Indians -- an epoch covered in his autobiography, My Life as an Indian, also being published in this series (Beaufort, $9.95). Once staples of boys' literature, his books had fallen out of print until this resuscitation. They are rousing and authoritative novels, the kind in whichthe hero makes his own arrows and skins his own bears. Schultz, who lived from 1859-1947, was lucky enough to be able to read Lewis and Clark's Journals and Parkman's The Oregon Trail and to act out the fantasies they evoked in him.
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, by John Bellairs; illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown (Bantam/Skylark, $2.50; ages 8-14). For a child the world is filled with mysteries, so it is no wonder that the young enjoy riddles, whodunits, and spooky stories. John Bellairs is one of the best writers of witty Gothic puzzlers, laced with supernatural elements -- Edward Goreyish tales of forbidding mansions, uncanny clocks, mummies, crypts, unearthly figurines, sorcerer's skulls. In this reissue Anthony Monday must discover where in the Hoosac Public Library the eccentric millionaire inventor and Egyptologist Alpheus T. Winterborn secreted his rumored "treasure." As Winterborn designed the strange library and lived in it alone for seven days just before he died, this is no easy task. The clues to the treasure's location are, of course, as enigmatic as the library's motto: "Believe Only Half of What You Read." And then there's the old man's evil nephew Hugo Philpotts. . . Readers who like Bellairs will be glad to look for his half dozen other books, including his single grown-up fantasy, the scary and deliciously written, The Face in the Frost, the tale of a wizard's adventures as he tries to save his country from unspeakable evil.