Almost Innocent, by Sheila Bosworth (Penguin, $6.95). In this highly accomplished first novel, Sheila Bosworth tells the story of a young woman who lives on the edge of high society in New Orleans. In extended flashbacks, she recalls her childhood and adolescence with parents who promised more than they were able to give. The novel is exceptionally well- written, and permeated with the flavors of the exotic city in which it is set.
Turtle Diary, by Russell Hoban (Washington Square, $3.95). Russell Hoban, one of our most original novelists, has most often written about the fantastical, or phantasmagorical, as in Riddley Walker, Pilgermann, or his children's book The Mouse and His Child. Turtle Diary, originally published a decade ago, is a departure into realism. Alternating between the diaries of a rather bookish middle-aged English woman, and an equally serious man, Hoban tells a story of commitment and redemption. The two meet one day by the sea turtle tank at the London Aquarium, where their common concern and interest in these strange reptiles yields a plot to set them free.
The Hemingway Women, by Bernice Kert (Norton, $9.95). There were a great many women in Ernest Hemingway's life and their influence on him was considerable, though few of them were treated especially well. In this exhaustive examination of his relationships with his mother, his sister, his four wives and his various female friends, Bernice Kert provides a sober analysis that in the end reflects more credit on the women than on Hemingway. Most of them were exploited in one manner or another, but by and large they maintained their dignity and continued to hold Hemingway in affection long after he had ceased to deserve it.
The Amazing Brain, by Robert Ornstein and Richard F. Thompson. Illustrated by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95). Robert Ornstein and Richard F. Thompson, both biologists at Stanford, have written for the layman. They delineate the complexities of the brain step by step, working from the medulla oblongata upward to the cerebellum, the limbic system, the cerebrum and the cortex. "The brain is like an old ramshackle house that has been added on to over the years in a rather disorganized fashion," state the authors, and David Macaulay's brilliant drawings bear out that interpretation. For his part, Macaulay shows the full range of his talent -- providing the book with excellent descriptive diagrams of brain anatomy and neurophysiology.
Billy the Kid: A Handbook, by Jon Tuska (University of Nebraska Press, $7.95). Was Billy the Kid "the most romantic of western desperadoes or a rat- faced wimp?" The truth, according to Jon Tuska, is as usual more complex than either alternative, but his judgment that "what the Kid had become, besides a drifter and gambler, was a petty horse thief" comes down decidedly on the rat-faced side. After providing a summary of the facts (insofar as we know them) of the Kid's life, he examines the more culturally significant problem of what use mythmakers had made of the Kid -- in penny dreadfuls, purported histories and biographies, and films.
The Chattahoochee Review: Fall 1985, edited by by Lamar York (2101 Womack Rd., Dunwoody, Ga. 30338-4497, $3.50). Conversations with writers have been a staple of literary magazines ever since The Paris Review inaugurated its famous "Writers at Work" series. In this issue of The Chattahoochee Review the much loved short-story writer Peter Taylor talks at length (60 pages) with J. William Broadway about books, his work, friends such as Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell, his passion for old houses, and much else. An extra bonus is a small portfolio of Taylor family photographs. Not to be missed by any young writer or Taylor fan.
Yale French Studies: The Lesson of Paul de Man, edited by Peter Brooks, Shoshana Felman, and J. Hillis Miller (Yale University Press, 92A Yale Station, New Haven, Conn. 06520, $11.95). Legendary teachers -- from Alcuin to George Lyman Kittredge -- shape their disciplines in the classroom as much as in their writing. So was it with the late Paul de Man, who through two books of essays and a teaching post at Yale, helped bring about a revolution in the criticism of literature. Without him deconstruction might only be a neologism instead of a Niagara sweeping aside most other kinds of literary study. This collection of tributes and essays -- from colleagues, students and friends -- testifies to the affection, esteem, and sheer awe that de Man inspired. Also included are the critic's last lecture (on Walter Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator") and a bibliography of his writing.
The New Criterion: February 1986, edited by Hilton Kramer (850 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, $3.50). Everyone knows The New Criterion is, well, conservative, a defender of traditional values; but its hardly a safe and comfy magazine. Every month Bruce Bawer writes a long, usually provocative piece about literature (this month: Wallace Stevens); he resembles Joseph Epstein in breadth of interest and wit. Editor Kramer regularly comments on culture; Samuel Lipman discusses music; Mimi Kramer goes to the theater. In this particular issue Donald Hall, Robert Richman, and X.J. Kennedy remember the witty and melancholy English poet Philip Larkin; Frederick Brown contributes a profile of French publisher Gaston Gallimard (a kind of Gallic Alfred Knopf); and various reviewers look at books on literary criticism, Edward Hopper's painting, and the fiction of Carlos Fuentes.
Granta 17: While Waiting for a War, edited by Bill Buford (Penguin, $6.95). The latest issue of this exceptionally handsome literary-political magazine takes its title from a long extract from Graham Greene's journals for 1937 and 1938: lots of passages from his reading as well as reflections on friends and political events Many magazines might think that one such star turn was enough to make an issue. Not Granta. Here are stories by Nadine Gordimer and Alice Munro; an essay by Milan Kundera on Prague; Heinrich Boll's last published work ("A Letter to My Sons: War's End"); a letter from Israel by Amos Oz; an appreciation of Italo Calvino by John Updike. As if that weren't enough, Bruce Chatwin reports on life during an African coup and Doris Lessing talks about her mother. There's also an extract from a banned Polish book about Stalin's lieutenants in that country. In short, editor Buford provides enough to satisfy the most rabid appetite for good writing and hard thinking.