FICTION

How To Be a Happy Cat, by Charles Platt; cartoons by Gray Jolliffe (Main Street Press, William Case House, Pittstown, NJ 08867, $5.95). There's been a lot written about cats -- T.S. Eliot poems, Heathcliff and Garfield cartoons, Broadway musicals -- but this must be the first self-help album addressed directly to felines. It purports to be an example of samizdat literature set down by a cat for cats, with chapters on choosing owners, learning the human language, dealing with other animals and domestic appliances and much else. In most instances, Platt's translation makes clear that the best course for a cat is to be as uppity, demanding and as true to himself as possible, never bending to the will of the inferior human beings with whom he may live. "Remember," notes the writer, "if they'd wanted an obediant pet, they would have got a dog." Accompanying the funny text are equally funny pictures.

Small Business , by Tom Parker (Penguin, $6.95). Fassler is a partner with Blair in a San Francisco media production company. Blair takes care of the creativity and Fassler runs the business, enforcing the 10 percent rule -- never tax your imagination more than 10 percent in doing the job for the client. Everything is just fine until Fassler announces that he is "having an emotional difficulty" and can't be counted on. Which leaves Blair alone to put on the biggest trade show of the year. And as if that wasn't enough, neither Blair's girlfriend nor his ex-wife want to make his life any easier and the city wants to condemn his half-million dollar home.

Daddy Was a Number Runner , by Louise Meriwether, with a foreword by James Baldwin and an afterword by Nellie McKay (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 311 E. 94th St, New York, NY 10128; $8.95). First published in 1970, this is the story of a 12-year-old Francie Coffin, growing up in Harlem. All around her there is evidence of limits and failure -- one brother joins a gang and then becomes a pimp, another, aspiring to be a chemist, drops out of school to work for an undertaker. The choices Francie faces are just as bleak -- she can work in a laundry or become a domestic, prostitute herself or become a welfare mother. Here, to be sure, is misery. But despite the possibility for crippling despair, Francie retains the kind of optimism that allows her to think "I loved all of Harlem gently and didn't want to be Puerto Rican or anything but my own rusty self."

The Car Thief , by Theodore Weesner (Vintage Contemporaries, $6.95). Sixteen-year-old Alex, the car thief of the title, has stolen 13 cars. The novel opens with his theft of a 14th, a theft that results in his arrest and confinement in a detention center. This is no ordinary novel of juvenile delinquency, however. Central to the novel is Alex's relationship with his father, an alcoholic who has worked in an automobile factory for 19 years. The two love each other, and it is this love -- father for son, son for father -- that the novel explores.

NONFICTION

The Crusade Through Arab Eyes , by Amin Maalouf (Schocken, $8.95). Most of what we know about the Crusades comes from the point of view of Western writers and historians. In this book, Lebanese journalist Amin Maalouf tells the story from the other side -- that of Saladin's Muslim army. Based primarily on the work of those Arab historians who wrote during that time, it is an attempt, in Maalouf's words, to write "the 'true-life novel' of the Crusades, of those two centuries of turmoil that shaped the West and the Arab world alike, and that affect relations between them even today."

Along With Youth: Hemingway, The Early Years , by Peter Griffin (Oxford University Press, $7.95). In a foreword to this biography, Jack Hemingway says, "It has been written by a young man who has shown me insights into my own father's character and behavior I would not have thought possible in view of the time lapse between Hemingway's death and the research Griffin has accomplished." The young Papa depicted here is an immensely attractive figure, full of promise, with his hunting trips in Michigan, his service on the Italian front in World War, and his journalistic career in Kansas City and Toronto. The book ends with Hemingway's move to that "moveable feast," Paris, in 1921.

With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua , by Christopher Dickey (Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, $6.95) Christopher Dickey was the first U.S. reporter to go into the mountains of Nicaragua with the contras and observe the day-to-day conduct of their guerrilla war against the Sandinista government. Dickey's book, supplied with a new preface on the Iran-contra connection, indicts the U.S. government, particularly the CIA, for its involvement in the Nicaraguan war.

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

Count Zero , by William Gibson (Ace, $2.95). This breathtakingly imaginative novel set in a high-tech world of computer bandits and free-lance mercenaries begins with these words: "They set a slamhound on Turner's trail in New Delhi, slotted to his pheromones and the color of his hair." Turner, who has to undergo complete reconstructive surgery after his encounter with the slamhound, is a mercenary whose work involves getting top-notch inventors out of their life-time contracts with corporations they no longer want to work for. Once the novel is underway, the plot shifts between three characters and story lines -- Turner and his new assignment; Count Zero, a young computer cowboy trying to figure out what he has gotten himself into after he uses black market software to tap into a strange data base; and Marley, a one-time art gallery owner who receives a commission to locate a mysterious artist from the richest man in the world.

Swan Song , by Robert R. McCammon (Pocket Books, $4.95). Readers dissatisfied because there aren't more books by the already-prolific Stephen King could do worse than to investigate this massive novel by Robert R. McCammon. Reminiscent of King's The Stand, it is the story of a young girl with healing powers, Swan, and the evil that stalks her in the devastated landscape of a post-holocaust America. At the same time the Army of Excellence, led by survivalists and former military officers, wends its path of destruction through the Midwest, doing the bidding of the Man with the Scarlet Eyes, the figure of evil who must find Swan before he can bring about the final battle.

Archer's Goon , by Diana Wynne Jones (Berkley, $2.95). Howard Sykes comes home from school one day to find a large person named Goon sitting in the kitchen. The problem, Goon explains to Howard and his sister, is that their novelist father has failed to deliver the 2,000 words he owes a Mr. Archer. And, Goon says, he won't leave till he gets them. Howard finds out that the mysterious Archer is a wizard, and that there is magic in his father's writing, but he has to discover what it is that Archer really wants.