FICTION

The Class, by Erich Segal (Bantam, $4.50). This fictional account of the Harvard Class of 1958 by one of its members (and the author of Love Story) teems with the lore of the well-known finishing school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Something Out There, by Nadine Gordimer (Penguin, $5.95). Perhaps no other South African writer of fiction has charted so well the moral complexities of that country as Nadine Gordimer does. Every layer of its torn society is delineated in this marvelous collection of short stories: the white family whose comfortable middle-class life is buttressed by the labors of the black maid who lives in the back yard; a group of young revolutionaries planning to blow up a power plant; a black woman who for no apparent reason turns in a revolutionary who has been hiding in her home; and, in the title story, the hubbub that ensues when a baboon wreaks havoc in a quiet suburban white neighborhood. Gordimer's characters represent every political stripe from racist to anarchist, and each one is realized with depth and sensitivity.

Shiloh and Other Stories, by Bobbie Ann Mason (Harper & Row/Perennial, $6.95). First published in 1982, these stories brought Bobbie Ann Mason immediate literary celebrity. Set in western Kentucky, they are about ordinary, unreflective, inarticulate country people who are all in one way or another trying to cope with rapid social change. So homogeneous has modern American life become that even in rural Kentucky it may all be defined through brand names and TV shows. These stories are in some ways as arid and limited as the lives they portray, but at the same time depressingly memorable.

NONFICTION

A Woman's Touch: Women in Design from 1860 to the Present Day, by Isabelle Anscombe (Penguin, $12.95). The Arts and Crafts Movement in late Victorian England was a boon to the woman designer, providing her with an opportunity to branch out from the embroidery hoop. The movement gave women a wealth of opportunity to create and express themselves through the decorative arts. Later the Glasgow School and the Bauhaus were showcases for the work of women who painted wallpaper, designed textiles and tea services, china and chairs. This full- blown study, amply illustrated, is a tribute to their originality and energy.

E.B. White: A Biography, by Scott Elledge (Norton, $9.95). In a long life (1899-1985) Elwyn Brooks "Andy" White enchanted his fellow countrymen as perhaps no other 20th-century American writer. A major force on The New Yorker in its formative years, especially as the author of its "Talk of the Town" section; husband of Katharine Sergeant Angell White, the magazine's almost legendary fiction editor; co-author with James Thurber of Is Sex Necessary? Or Why You Feel the Way You Do; author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, the White of the indispensable guide to writing, "Strunk and White"; loyal son of Cornell; sage of North Brooklin, Maine; owner of a dachshund named Fred, good neighbor, and intrepid farmer ("Geese are friends with no one, they badmouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get used to their ingratitude and their false accusations"), he is always agreeable; and so is this informative biography.

The Medical Detectives, Volume II, by Berton Rouech,e (Washington Square Press, $4.95). Twenty- six case histories by the New Yorker reporter who writes the magazine's "Annals of Medicine" column. Perfect bedtime reading for hypochondriacs, the collection includes the tale of the Port Arthur, Texas, gentleman who hiccuped on and off for 27 years -- until his doctor cracked the case with a brilliant clue from a urologist.

Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth, by Gwyn Macfrlane (Oxford University Press, $9.95). This is the first life of the discoverer of Penicillin by a scientist (the author is professor emeritus of clinical pathology at Oxford). It corrects the accepted version of Fleming's great find, in part advanced by Fleming himself, and presents the actual history of arguably the greatest medical discovery of the century.

Ivy: The Life of I. Compton-Burnett, by Hilary Spurling (Columbia University Press, $14.50). Ivy Compton-Burnett (1886-1969) was a sort of malicious Jane Austen who wrote witty novels consisting almost entirely of mannered dialogue spoken by the residents of large English country houses. She could be merciless in her depiction of some unattractive human traits -- lust and the power one individual holds over another. This biography tells her eccentric life in fascinating detail and provides a commentary on the social and moral crises which buffeted British intellectuals after World War I. Interesting characters abound -- the Sinologist Arthur Waley, the publisher Victor Gollancz and Ivy's great friend Ernest Thesiger, who said of the World War I battle of Ypres, "My dear, the noise!! and the people!!!"

Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, by Alan Riding (Vintage, $4.95). This economic, political and historical survey of America's southern neighbor by the longtime bureau chief of The New York Times reveals in comprehensive detail Mexico's complexity.

America's Wooden Age: Aspects of Its Early Technology, edited by Brooke Hindle (Sleepy Hollow Press, 150 White Plains Rd., Tarrytown, N.Y. 10591, $14.95). From 1608 to 1865 what did Americans use for fuel, building materials, and the raw material for processed chemicals (wood alcohol, potash, turpentine, pitch, tannin)? What did they use for charcoal, watermills, windmills, ships, boats, wagons, bridges, furniture, railroad ties, clocks and even scientific instruments? Why, wood, of course, and these informative essays, many by Smithsonian scholars, splendidly celebrate the techniques and technology of America's Age of Wood.

CHILDREN'S

Goldie the Dollmaker, by M. B. Goffstein (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $3.45; ages 3-8). This little fable by one of our best writers and illustrators for children is about a dollmaker who risks all she has for something beautiful. Goldie falls in love with a Chinese lamp that she buys for a tremendous price. She will have to make and sell 18 dolls in order to pay for it, and the prospect fills her with fear. Has she bitten off more than she can chew? The answer, of course, is no. The sacrifice is worth it. Goffstein tells this not-so-simple story in a very simple way. It's a pleasure to read on many levels.

The Foolish Tortoise, by Richard Buckley, illustrated by Eric Carle (Picture Book Studio, 60 N. Main St., Natick, Mass. 01760, $3.95; ages 3-7). A story told in rhyme of a tortoise who decides to lighten his load and remove his shell. But even without his heavy carapace, the tortoise isn't all that speedy, and he finds he is extremely vulnerable. Good sense finally carries the day. Eric Carle's illustrations are strong and colorful, reminiscent of his earlier classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Magic Mirror and Other Poems for Children, by Judith Nicholls (Faber and Faber, $5.95; ages 6-11). This handsome little book contains some delightful verse for children: poems about nature, about school, about prophets and pharaohs. Their symmetry is satisfying, but they never collapse into banality or glibness.

To Be a Slave, by Julius Lester (Scholastic, $2.25; ages 12-15). In 1963 Julius Lester spent months poring over accounts of slave life compiled during the '30s by the Federal Writers Project and during the first half of the 19th century by northern abolitionists. From nearly 6,000 pages, Lester gleaned a sample for this slim book, which in spite of its brevity is an eloquent portrayal of an inhuman institution. The everyday details of life for most slaves were grim: their lodgings were no better than stables, their food meager, their clothes crude. Lester's book makes fascinating reading.