First Love and Other Sorrows, by Harold Brodkey (Vintage, $5.95). This collection of nine stories was first published in 1958. Its reappearance may be a signal that the publication of Brodkey's almost legendary long novel may be drawing near. Fragments of it have appeared in magazines from time to time over the last 20 years, and his admirers rather regard him as some sort of Proust beavering away in a cork-lined room. In any case, these stories of youthful love, following a young man from St. Louis to Harvard and Paris, can easily stand on their own, being marked by an unusual freshness of perception ("The trouble with being happy was that it made you frightened.") and a highly personal style.
Men and Angels, by Mary Gordon (Ballantine, $4.50). Ann Foster -- an art historian who has stayed behind with her children while her husband has a year's fellowship study in France -- along with the family's live-in babysitter, her two young charges, and a dead artist (the subject of Ann's current research project) weave a web of emotion, puzzlement, and pathos in this, Mary Gordon's third, novel.
Italian Baroque and Rococo Architecture, by John Varriano (Oxford, $16.95). The word "Baroque" designates the architectural style that prevailed in Europe from the end of the Renaissance to the beginnings of the modern age, roughly 1600-1750. Baroque structures share a "fondness for complex, often centralized ground plans; an increasing tendency toward greater height, eventually establishing the dome rather than the high altar as the physical and spiritual focus; the love of curved wall planes, of projecting columns . . . and of rhythmic bay arrangements." A natural for church buildings, the Baroque style was intended to overpower all who entered with a splendor that, as Bernini wrote, "would reach out to Catholics in order to reaffirm their faith, to heretics to reunite them with the church, and to agnostics to enlighten them with the true faith." The noble words are perfectly illustrated by 190 photographs of the glories of the Italian Baroque in this fascinating study by a Mount Holyoke College art historian.
Becoming William James, by Howard M. Feinstein (Cornell, $10.95). In fall 1874 a new instructor, just past 30, with a closely trimmed beard and flashing blue eyes, joined the Harvard faculty to teach anatomy and physiology. Although he had been to medical school, he had never practiced. In classroom discussion he left biology behind and "nudged the class toward the borderland of psychology." And although a scientist, he spoke "passionately against the materialist's blithe conclusion that evolution made God superflous in human affairs." So begins this brilliant study of the youth and struggle for self-realization of the famous psychologist, elder brother to the novelist Henry James.
The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams, by Donald Spoto (Ballantine, $4.95). The Glass Menagerie, Summer and Smoke, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer -- any one of his marvelous plays makes up for all the false-starts and flops that punctuated the creative years of Thomas Lanier Williams, born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, and dead in 1983 in New York of an apparent drug overdose. The name Tennessee first appeared on a short story in 1939. Like his heroine in Streetcar, Williams often depended on the kindness of strangers, many of whom are named in this carefully researched life of the major figure in postwar American drama.
The Soong Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave (Harper & Row, $9.95). The Borgias, the Habsburgs, the Romanovs -- the Soongs. Few families in history have played such a full role in human affairs as this Chinese dynasty, begun in the 1880s by Charlie Soong, a Duke and Vanderbilt-educated convert and missionary who used his Christian connections to build a Shanghai fortune. One daughter married Sun Yat- sen, another Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek; his sons became officials in the Nationalist government and international financiers; their descendants today are among the wealthiest families of New York and San Francisco.
The March to Victory: A Guide to World War II Battles and Battlefields From London to the Rhine, by John T. Bookman and Stephen T. Powers (Harper & Row, $9.95). A tour guide to G.I. Joe's journey from the Channel ports to the Rhine bridges during the last half of 1944 and the first half of 1945. The listings of museums, points of interest and scenes of action are sometimes quite fascinating, as in the relation of Hemingway's "liberation" of the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Heading Home, by Paul Tsongas (Vintage, $3.95). He was the talented, handsome, and promising junior senatr from Massachusetts. Today he is a private citizen, practicing law in Boston and spending his free time with his family. The decision to make that transition was difficult -- made when Paul Tsongas, faced with the diagnosis of a rare form of cancer, had to reorder the priorities of his life and choose, essentially, between power politics and his family. He chose the latter, and this eloquent and moving book is the story of how and why he did so.
Challengers: The Inspiring Life Stories of the Seven Brave Astronauts of Shuttle Mission 51- L, by the staff of The Washington Post (Pocket, $3.50). The image of the Challenger shuttle disappearing in an explosion of white smoke that clear blue morning last January has already been engraved on our communal memory. At the same time the seven astronauts who lost their lives in that accident suddenly became symbols of ordinary people caught up in the dangers of an extraordinary endeavor. A team of The Washington Post reporters has assembled a group biography of the seven: their childhood dreams, youthful accomplishments, and the drive that put them into the astronaut program. Half the publisher's fee to The Washington Post will be donated to one of the funds set up in memory of the astronauts.