FICTION

Travelers and Heat and Dust , by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Fireside/ Simon & Schuster, $6.95 each). European and American fascination with things Indian has an honorable literary -- and, more recently, cinematic -- heritage. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, European-born but for most of her adult life a resident of India, has brought her foreigner's objectivity to bear on the life and culture of her adopted country in a series of nine novels and several short-story collections, all subtle, wry, poetic distillations of an unfathomably complex society. Travelers tells the interlocking tales of four people, two British and two Indian, who meet in India and whose lives are radically changed by their encounters not only with each other but with a charismatic and corrupt swami. Booker Prize-winner Heat and Dust is enlivened by a double plot: the "dark and terrible" story of Olivia, a bored English colonial wife who in the 1920s elopes sensationally with a minor Indian prince; and the story of her step-granddaughter who is drawn to India 50 years later by the spell of that old scandal, which she has discovered through Olivia's letters.

Ocean of Story , by Christina Stead (Penguin, $7.95). The previously uncollected stories of a major fiction-writer of this century, Ocean of Story is a rich mosaic of pieces set variously in Christina Stead's native Australia, Europe, the United Sates and England. Some are closer to sketch or anecdote than finished story, some are obviously autobiographical and others are interesting as rough drafts of parts of her better-known novels, including The Man Who Loved Children. But nearly all demonstrate Stead's irrepressible curiosity about other people's lives, her gift for bringing them to life through dialogue, and her instinctive understanding of the terrors of childhood.

Mutuwhenua, The Moon Sleeps , by Patricia Grace (Penguin, $4.95). It's not true that indigenous New Zealand literature began when Keri Hulme won the Booker Prize two years ago, but it is true that other local writers are enjoying, in the wake of her celebrity, attention they might not otherwise have attracted. One who certainly deserves it is Patricia Grace, a writer of Maori descent who since 1975 has published two collections of stories and Mutuwhenua, The Moon Sleeps, a quiet but powerful novel of racial interrelationships. Ripeka is a Maori girl who leaves her extended family and its traditional ways to marry Graeme, a white schoolteacher. Moving with him to the city, Ripeka discovers her spiritual ties to home and family are stronger than she'd thought.

110 Shanghai Road , by Monica Highland (Bantam, $4.50). This saga takes its characters from China as the object of missionary zeal to China as the subject of pingpong diplomacy. Written by a trio of West Coast literary folk (their nom de plume derives from the intersection of two streets near their homes), it is a multi-generational tale distinguishable from the run-of-the-mill in its genre by mordantly witty firsthand impressions of the country and its people.

Viper's Tangle , by Franc ois Mauriac (Carroll & Graf, $8.95). Religious novels are often tendentious, but this is an exception. Perhaps because, by his own admission, Mauriac was an accomplished sinner himself, he manages to invest his "bad" characters with full humanity. As a result, this story of an avaricious old man who tries to rise above his pet sin but is driven back toward it by his scheming relatives is particularly moving. The author was elected to the Academy and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.

A Horse of Air , by Dal Stivens (Penguin, $8.95) This is an intriguing novel in the form of an autobiographical account by one Harry Craddock -- millionaire, ornithologist, dreamer -- of his expedition to central Australia in 1967 to search for the rare night parrot. But it becomes increasingly hard for the reader to distinguish reality from fantasy: not only did Craddock write his memoir in the mental hospital, but the text is jarringly interspersed with excerpts from his wife's diary and comments from both his psychiatrist and his editor. "I know what you're thinking! It's hard to tell when he's telling the truth." A tour de force from one of Australia's most intellectually adventurous modern fiction writers.

NONFICTION

California: Land of New Beginnings , by David Lavender (University of Nebraska, $11.95). This readable history of the most outrageous, most self-conscious state was first published in 1972. Now it is being reissued in a new edition with an afterword by the author bringing matters up to date. In the interim, he writes, "the dynamics of change have remained California's one constant." Focusing on the five thematic topics of land, oil, gold, transportation, and water (shouldn't celluloid have been added?), Lavender begins with fossils discovered at the La Brea tar pits in downtown Los Angeles and ends with the contemporary water wars centering on the delta just east of San Francisco Bay, and as anyone who has visited the Golden State knows, there is much, much more.

Remembering America: A Sampler of the WPA American Guide Series , edited by Archie Hobson (Collier, $11.95) During the late 1930s and early '40s the Federal Writers Project undertook a state by state set of guide books, each fat volume crammed with facts, maps, pictures, and chapters of regional history, tourist attractions and local industry. The books -- called the American Guide series -- soon became legendary and have long been a staple of second-hand bookshops. This anthology gleans from the series some 500 passages of the best human interest bits; the result is an ideal browsing book, American history as told by Garrison Keillor, with touches of the The Farmer's Almanac and The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town."

Utilitarianism and Other Essays , by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham (Penguin, $5.95) Nearly every student who bothers with philosophy at all knows this classic essay by Mill; as Alan Ryan says in his lengthy and thorough introduction to this edition, it is "short, readable, polemical, and eloquent" -- virtues all too rarely found in philosophy. Bentham's original common-sense dictum -- "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" etc. -- appears attractively logical and plain (it is included here in an extract from his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation); but Mill found Bentham's views of happiness too narrow. He himself originated the equally aphoristic: "It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Besides the title piece and other pieces about Benthamism, this collection also reprints Mill's related essay-memoir of Coleridge.

Elvis in Private , edited by Peter Haining (St Martin's, $3.50); Elvis, A King Forever , by Robert Gibson with Sid Shaw (McGraw-Hill, $14.95); The Illustrated Elvis , by W.A. Harbinson (Perigee, $9.95) Aug. 16, 1987, marks the 10th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. Honoring the occasion are, among other things, three books -- one original, two reprints -- which between them shed some (mostly) kindly light on Elvis, both the man and the legend. The new book, Elvis in Private, is a collection of memoirs of the King by people who knew him, from Roy Orbison, Ann Margret and Elvis's uncle to John Lennon and Priscilla Presley, some of them touchingly inarticulate and sincere. Glossier productions are Robert Gibson's Elvis, A King Forever and W.A. Harbinson's Illustrated Elvis, two picture-book bios, of which Harbinson's is much more acute.

Spirit of Survival , by Gail Sheehy (Bantam, $4.95) When Phat Mohm was just 6 years old, she and her family were forced from their home by the troops of Pol Pot and marched to labor camps through the war-ravaged countryside. Four years later, the orphaned Mohm escaped, and managed, after enduring extreme privation, to reach a refugee camp across the Thai border. Author Gail Sheehy, on an assignment in Thailand at the time, met the little girl there and was so moved by her story that she adopted her and brought her back to the U.S. This book, narrated partly by Phat Mohm and partly by Sheehy, is more than just the story of the shattering and rebuilding of a life; it is a meditation on the spirit of survival -- the power of hope -- in all of us.