FICTION

The Neon Wilderness , by Nelson Algren; afterword by Studs Terkel (Writing and Readers, $6.95). Here are 24 short stories by the late novelist, who has been called a "Dostoevsky without metaphysics," plus a bonus, the 1955 Paris Review interview. Algren burst into public favor with two gritty yet sentimental novels about skid-row characters on Chicago's South Side -- The Man With the Golden Arm (1949) and A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) -- both of which are anticipated in some of these stories. In "The Captain Has Bad Dreams," the drunks, burglars, cheap hoods and rapists being booked in a precinct house act out mock heroic rituals before a police captain who will reappear in The Man With a Golden Arm. And in "The Face on the Barroom Floor," an ex-fighter whose legs have been cut off by a train wheels himself around on a handmade platform propped on roller skates and proves his surviving manhood in a squalid bar brawl that only disgusts him. The story is a prefiguration of A Walk on the Wild Side. But all the stories are self-sufficient and evoke with feeling the urban inhabitants of Depression America.

Sweet Country , by Caroline Richards (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, $7.95). When this novel first appeared in 1979, it was hailed, not only as a fine work of fiction but as a vivid and true picture of Chile in turmoil as Allende was overthrown by right-wing extremists. Now the novel is being reissued as a movie tie-in. It centers on the fates of several characters: a North American couple and their Chilean friends during that fateful autumn of 1973.

NONFICTION

Cosmetics from the Earth: A Guide to Natural Beauty , by Roy Genders (Alfred van der Marck Editions, $16.95). Did you know that sweet bay will soften the skin, that strawberries will whiten the teeth, and that a solution made from stinging nettles makes a good hair tonic? This fascinating book is full of the lore of folk cosmetology, including recipes for making one's own bath salts and face packs. Included are beautiful color illustrations of the various wild plants which compose the ingredients.

Waiting: The Whites of South Africa , by Vincent Crapanzano (Vintage, $8.95). Vincent Crapanzano, an anthropologist, spent a year living among the whites of a small South African town. Their lives and attitudes, which he describes in fascinating detail in this excellent book, convinced him that apartheid has been as corrupting to South Africa's whites as it has been demeaning to the country's blacks. Travels in the Congo, by Andre' Gide (Penguin, $6.95). In 1925 the great French novelist and journal-keeper Andre' Gide traveled to the Congo region of East Africa as a special envoy of the French Colonial Ministry. Seldom can officialdom have been less pleased with the results of dispatching a writer of conscience. Gide's account of this trip, originally published in 1927 and dedicated to Joseph Conrad, led to legal reforms. Today it impresses largely by virtue of its sharp observations and the glimpses it offers of Gide's personality and tastes. Not by training or inclination a naturalist, he noticed something remarkable about hippopotami just the same: "I should like to know when it is that a hippomatus can possibly sleep. It grazes all day. And at night it lives in the water and is obliged to put its head up every five minutes to breathe." Elsewhere we get an insight into the sources of Gide's own aphoristic style and streamlined fictions.

MYSTERY

Fade Out , by Robert Upton (Penguin, $3.50). Amos McGuffin is at it again in this romp through the wilds of Hollywood. McGuffin is hired to investigate the suspicious suicide of a prominent art filmmaker Ben Volper, whose father, back in the Bronx, is sure Ben has been murdered. Trails lead all over the Malibu beach and back into the hills, and suspicious characters are as numerous as cadillacs on Rodeo Drive. McGuffin soon finds himself in the sleazy world where film, drugs, and dirty money intersect.

Strike Three, You're Dead , by R.D. Rosen (Signet, $2.95). Now that baseball season is in full swing, and those summer days lie heavy in the late afternoons, fans of both the national sport and of whodunits should pick up this brilliant first mystery (winner of an Edgar). Harvey Blissberg, caught off-guard by an expansion draft, finds himself no longer part of the Boston Red Sox but playing instead for the Providence Jewels. Discouraging, but not quite so much as the murder of pitcher Rudy Furth. The whole club is suspect, and Harvey unexpectedly finds himself playing detective as well as center field.

At the Hands of Another , by Arthur Lyons (Holt, $3.95). In a half dozen or so novels Arthur Lyons has made contemporary California his own turf as much as Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald made it theirs in decades past. This modern L.A. is a place of grotesques, of flashy discos and cokeheads, of scams, deals, and double-crosses. There is, clearly, nothing new under the hot California sun. In this novel private eye Jacob Asch must help an old flame look into the apparent suicide of her husband. Naturally things rapidly get out of hand.