FICTION

Scorpio Rising, by R.G. Vliet (Penguin, $6.95). Partisans of this unusual novel (published posthumously) swear it is a masterpiece. It follows the present-day fortunes of an amiable young Texan living in rural New England. When he returns home for a visit, the reader is transported to a ranch at the turn of the century, the home of the young Texan's forbears. A powerful story of lust, murder and revenge unfolds, in which lyric descriptions of the Texas brush country contrast with outpourings of the basest human emotions. At the novel's end, the reader faces a mystery of heredity: the effect of dark deeds on the protagonists' descendant, the young Texan.

Money, by Martin Amis (Penguin, $6.95). An Englishman, one of London's top makers of commercials, visits New York to shoot his first feature film. Everything he does concerns money: making it, spending it, talking it. After several weeks of booze, sex and drugs, he returns to London to recuperate, only to confront more temptations and new terrors. This breathless dissection of modern life is marked by biting, even savage humor and a conscious intent to shock.

Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Tobias Smollett with an introduction by Carlos Fuentes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $10.95; hardcover $22.50). There are many editions of Don Quixote, but this one, originally executed in 1755, revives one of the earliest English translations of Cervantes' great work. In his brief introduction to the novel, Carlos Fuentes calls Don Quixote the first great modern novel, sounding the death knell of chivalric tradition and medieval romance. Whatever its import, this strange work of fiction continues to move us with its mixture of comedy and sadness, satire and poignance, even rendered into the somewhat quaint language of 18th-century England.

The Celibates, by James Kavanaugh (Avon, $4.50). Himself a former Catholic priest, Kavanaugh writes for all those who feel they are called to the cloth but are also unable to do without sex. Kavanaugh presents two protagonists: Gerry, who succumbs not so much to fleshly desires as to the love of the right woman, and Ted, a man who cannot do without women no matter how hard he tries. Both are priests, and their struggles with their consciences and their church shape this heartfelt novel.

Flaubert's Parrot, by Julian Barnes (McGraw-Hill, $4.95). After the death of his wife, an English doctor finds himself obsessed with researching Flaubert's life and work. This comic novel presents his disparate findings, a kind of dossier -- focusing on the relation of art to life -- composed of essays, quotations, appreciations, chronologies, examination questions, and much else. The result is a work as ingenious as Nabokov's Pale Fire or Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler but with lines as funny as any in Flann O'Brien. A very literary book, and absolutely delicious.

Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter (Penguin, $6.95). Angela Carter -- known for an imagination that blends fairy tale, feminism, magic and brilliant prose -- presents here, for the delectation of one and all, the daring, the dazzling, the one and only Fevvers, aerialiste extraordinaire and toast of Europe. In a series of interviews with American reporter Jack Walser (who quickly falls for the artiste), Fevvers recalls her strange past and even stranger acquaintances: a childhood in a brothel, captivity by a perverted artistocrat, exhibition in a freak's museum, and eventual association with Colonel Kearney's circus, a traveling show that includes uncannily intelligent monkeys, exceedingly learned clowns, and other wonders seldom met with beneath the big top. Besides this novel, Penguin is also reissuing Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffmann ($4.95), a magical-realist story of a sinister figure who starts to change reality, and what happens.

NONFICTION

A Time of Passion: America, 1960-1980, by Charles R. Morris (Penguin, $7.95). When John Kennedy swept into office in 1961, it was a time, as the campaign song said, of high hopes. A younger generation had seized the reins of power, and it seemed possible that imagination and idealism could solve the pressing problems, foreign and domestic, of the day: witness the Peace Corps, the Test Ban Treaty, the civil rights movement. Yet 10 years later -- after vicious political assassinations, an unpopular and ineptly waged foreign war, urban riots and crime, the faltering of the Great Society's antipoverty programs -- Richard Nixon was president and liberalism was in disarray, a state from which it has not yet recovered. What happened? This excellent analysis by the former director of welfare programs for New York City puts the dramatic events of the last two decades into economic and philosophical focus.

The United States Navy in World War II, edited by S.E. Smith (Quill, $15.95). First published in 1966, this huge (1,049 pages) anthology contains some of the best reporting and historical writing on the 1941-1945 war. Among the writers represented are Ernie Pyle, Robert Sherrod, Samuel Eliot Morison, John Toland, Capt. Edward L. Beach, Hanson W. Baldwin, John P. Marquand, Walter Lord, Fletcher Pratt, John Hersey, and Robert J. Donovan. But plenty of obscure bluejackets are included, too, who add vivid detail to the story of the Navy's victory, as for instance Seaman 1/C James J. Fahey's account of the crowded church service aboard U.S.S. Montpelier off Okinawa the Sunday after V-J Day.

Italian Gothic Sculpture; Italian Renaissance Sculpture; Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture, by John Pope-Hennessy (Vintage, $22.50 each). Subtitled "An Introduction to Italian Sculpture," these magisterial volumes exhibit the careful connoisseurship, wide learning and passionate enthusiasm of the world's living authority on its subject. And what a subject -- the sculptural work of Donatello, Michaelangelo, Cellini, and a host of lesser masters, all beautifully illustrated. A standard work.

H.H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock (Oxford University Press, $12.95) From 1912 until 1915 a remarkable correspondence flowed back and forth between a great British statesman and a girl less than half his age, Venetia Stanley. Asquith gradually became obsessed with Venetia and wrote to her sometimes three times a day, letters filled with passion, gossip, political confidences and details of military strategy. New light is shed on burning issues of the day, such as Home Rule for Ireland, the decision to go to war in 1914 and the early part of the Dardanelles campaign. But these beauifully edited letters are perhaps most riveting as the record of a love affair, brought to an abrupt conclusion by Venetia's engagement to a political subordinate of Asquith's in May 1915.

Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake, by Edward Seidensticker (Donald Ellis, $13.95). This fascinating books tells of the transformation of Tokyo, from he Meiji Restoration of 1867 to the great earthquake of 1923, when the metropolis was transformed from the "low city" where geishas and teahouses epitomized the old Japanese ways, to the "high city" where foreigners and brick buildings held sway.

Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History Since 1917, by Stephen F. Cohen (Oxford, $6.95) and Survival Is Not Enough: Soviet Realities and America's Future, by Richard Pipes (Touchstone, $9.95). These two tough-minded, strenuously argued analyses of the Soviet Union are indispensable to specialist and layman alike. Harvard's Pipes asserts that war with Russia will remain a possibility as long as the regime continues traditional policies of expansionism; Princeton's Cohen maintains that the forces of reform within the Soviet Union will be strengthened by d,etente.

Margaret Mead and Samoa, by Derek Freeman (Penguin, $5.95). This scholarly detective story dissects anthropologist Margaret Mead's famous Coming of Age in Samoa (1928> and finds its full of errors and in reality a tract in the nature-nurture controversy. Mead believed Samoa was a culture whose residents were sexually uninhibited and free of jealousy and the emotional turmoil of adolescence. On the contrary, says the author, Samoans did not then inhabit an island paradise. Reviewers said this work was one of those rare books that reshape the intellectual landscape.

O Albany!: Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels, by William Kennedy (Penguin/Washington Park Press, $10.95). William Kennedy, prize-winning novelist (Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, Ironweed), becomes in this book Albany's "curious cheerleader". A rip-roaring combination of history, memoir, expos,e and celebration, O Albany! is an attempt both to evoke and to create the legend of a city, "Albany as a state of mind." "I write this book. . . as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs for the life of the soul." Albany will never seem dreary again after this.

The Lisle Letters, edited by Muriel St. Clare Byrne, selected by Bridget Boland (University of Chicago Press, $12.95). This is the one-volume abridgment of the six-volume collection published to the highest historical acclaim in 1983. The letters follow the fortunes of an aristocratic English family in the years 1533 to 1540, the brief period that saw some of the most momentous events in Englands long history: the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, the establishment of the Church of England, and the execution of many persons -- Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell -- who opposed what has come to be called the "Tudor revolution." When the family's head, Lord Lisle, an illegitimate Plantagenent and kinsman of the king, fell out of favor with Henry VIII, the letters were assembled as evidence at his trial. They reveal in flavorful detail the Lisle family's day-to-day concerns. Many distinguished historians have asserted they do for the 16th century what the Paston Letters do for the 15th.

I Stand Corrected, by William Safire (Avon, $10.95). Besides being a political pundit with a syndicated slot, former White House speechwriter William Safire (he is said to have coined Spiro Agnew's notorious "nattering nabobs of negativism") is also a wordsmith of high calibre. This fat book is a collection of his clever and useful columns for The New York Times Sunday Magazine -- the labor of a man who cares passionately about language. So do his readers, as witness the controversy he engendered when he confessed to redundancy in having written "a friend of Churchill's." There's no telling how many of them responded (we mean readers, of course, not friends of Winston's), but the book reprints no fewer than 13 thoughtful responses. As always, that punctilious writer Jacques Barzun has the last word. "You were right the first time," he in effect tells Safire; "a friend of Churchill" is no more correct than "a friend of me." There is much more to the dispute than our sampling indicates, of course, and if this sort of thing interests you, you will find I Stand Corrected a treasure-trove.

Travel Healthy: The Traveler's Complete Medical Kit, by Dr. Harold Silverman (Avon, $3.50). This little volume contains chapters on universal travelers' maladies -- insect bites and motion sickness -- as well as entries on more exotic ones, such as dengue fever. Perhaps most useful is a lengthy table providing the foreign brand names for American drugs. Here is the good doctor's analysis of the disease that so embarrassed President Carter south of the border: "Traveler's diarrhea may not be the most prevalent travel-related malady, but it is probably the most feared."

The Living Past of Greece: A Time-Traveler's Tour of Historic and Prehistoric Places, by A. R. and Mary Burn (Schocken Books, $9.95). This guidebook to the antiquities of Greece combines photographs, maps, and an admirable text to provide a tour of ancient history in situ. Using it, the traveler can learn the ironic fact that the island of Aigina, now occluded by Athenian air pollution, was called "the eyesore of the Piraeus" by Pericles back in the days when it could be seen. The book also explains just how the traveler can circumvent the residential area above Marathon Bay and cop an unobstructed view of the great battle sie.

Gardens of a Golden Afternoon: The Story of a Partnership, Edwin Lutyens & Gertrude Jekyll, by Jane Brown (Penguin, $12.95). He designed the houses -- stately, stone, and shingled -- she their gardens. It was a brilliant partnership which produced some of England's most delightful domestic architecture. Working in the 20th century, Lutyens harked back to earlier times with his tudor roof lines and chimneys, half-timbered walls, and squared bay windows. Jekyll softened the stone walls with her romantic gardens -- perennial borders rioting with color, vines climbing over gates, ferns blurring the lines between garden and wood.