FICTION

Prizzi's Family , by Richard Condon (Jove, $4.50). Here's the Prizzi family before the imbroglio which kept us entertained in Prizzi's Honor. In this novel we have the young Charley Partanna, who's working as the family's hit man while he studies for his graduate equivalency. The Prizzi daughter, Maerose, is after him, but he's distracted by a sexy showgirl named Mardell La Tour. Things are never simple for Charley.

Billy and the Boingers Bootleg , by Berke Breathed (Little, Brown, $7.95). Not only does this album include the latest adventures of Steve Dallas, Oliver Wendell Jones, Opus, Binkley, and all the other now-familiar denizens of Bloom County, it also comes complete with a record of two big hits by Billy and the Boingers. As usual, the panels focus on the key issues of our time: video terrorism, snugglebunnies, Opus' engagement to former rock groupie Lolo Granola, the X-15 Cruise Basselope, the trading of Bill the Cat to the Russians for Cutter John, and more, much much more.

Sharpe's Sword , by Bernard Cornwell (Penguin, $3.50). Few Americans know much about the Peninsular War, the bloody campaign in Portugal and Spain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in which the Duke of Wellington licked several of Napoleon's best marshals -- and that little knowledge probably comes from C.S. Forester's fiction, for instance The Gun, which is about a giant artillery piece hauled by the Spanish irregulars. Ah, but now there are the adventures of Richard Sharpe of the South Sussex Regiment, a swashbuckling soldier of the crown. There are eight Sharpe novels, each full of Iberian color, historical exactness and romantic complications. In this one, Sharpe foils the evil machinations of Colonal Leroux, sent by Boney to disrupt the English plans. Sharpe foils him with cold steel, of course. Meanwhile, there's the beautiful La Marquesa.

Stained Glass Elegies , by Shusaku Endo, translated from the Japanese by Van C. Gessel (Dodd, Mead, $7.95). Among living Japanese novelists, Shusaku Endo is probably the best-known to Western readers. This volume presents another facet of his work -- the short stories he has been writing for two decades and more. Endo's Catholic faith partly accounts for the transferability of his books, but his interest in American ways -- evidenced here in a parody of the film Fantastic Voyage -- also explains his cross-cultural appeal. As such, the book offers a useful introduction to Endo himself, not to mention the mores of contemporary Japan.

Three by Finney: The Woodrow Wilson Dime; The Night People; Marion's Wall , by Jack Finney (Simon and Schuster/Fireside, $10.95). Why writers fall out of fashion is something of a mystery, but it is especially so in the case of Jack Finney. His one big novel -- Time and Again -- is something of a cult classic: it's the tale of a modern New Yorker who time-travels back to the turn of the century where he finds love and much else; but he's also the author of The Bodysnatchers which became the movie Invasion of the Bodysnatchers; and his short stories -- some chilling, some wistful and Ray Bradbury-like -- appeared regularly in Alfred Hitchcock's magazine (they were recently reprinted in a collection called About Time). This trio of novels displays Finney near his best. In the first a struggling, unhappy ad man discovers a Woodrow Wilson dime, and with its aid enters a parallel world where he is successful and his life exciting; in Marion's Wall a couple move into an old San Francisco house where the spirit of a silent film actress lingers; and in The Night People a quartet of proto-yuppies start roaming the streets late at night, playing elaborate pranks that grow more bizarre and dangerous. Each story is expertly written and well-made, told in a winning narrative voice, with moments of screwball comedy.

NONFICTION

Selections from George Eliot's Letters , edited by Gordon S. Haight (Yale University Press, $19.95). This is the abridged edition of one of the great monuments of modern literary scholarship, the nine-volume edition of George Eliot's letters edited by the late Professor Haight of Yale. George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans a.k.a. Mrs. George Henry Lewes (1818 to 1890), author of Silas Marner and Middlemarch, is much favored by students of Victorian literature both for her serious approach to the great philosophical questions of the 19th century and for her unflinching moral integrity. These letters trace her intellectual and emotional development and capture on the run, as it were, such eminent Victorians as Dickens, Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning -- and Herbert Spencer, with whom she fell in love, as a young woman. When he did not reciprocate her passion, she wrote him an anguished letter, which included this sentence: "You curse the destiny which has made the feeling concentrate itself on you -- but if you will only have patience with me you shall not curse it long. You will find that I can be satisfied with very little, if I am delivered from the dread of losing it."

Granta 21: The Story-Teller , edited by Bill Buford (Penguin, $6.95). Granta calls itself a "paperback magazine of new writing" and as such combines some of the qualities of the old New American Review with a slickness that recalls the Paris Review. This issue focuses on stories, and draws on an international set of contributors: Patrick Suskind (author of Perfume), Vaclav Havel, Oliver Sacks, Primo Levi, and Raymond Carver all contribute. The three high spots of the issue, though, are John Berger's "A Story for Aesop," an interview with and selections from Ryszard Kapuscinski (largely about central Africa), and a talk with Bruce Chatwin, followed by an extract from his new book, The Songlines. The Chatwin piece reveals, among other surprises, that The Songlines is more fiction than fact, that one of its main characters is imaginary, and that the whole structure is a lot trickier than a casual reading might suggest.

Appreciations , by Walter Pater (Northwestern University Press Paperbacks, $11.95). Walter Pater has become synonmyous with estheticism, and as such often tends to be dismissed as merely a gushy, coloristic writer of prose poems. Certainly he could practice an elaborate diction -- think of the ending of The Renaissance, with its famous "hard, gem-like flame" -- but the essays included here are striking in their plainness, intelligence, and evidence of wide reading. Included are pieces, often really stunning pieces, on style, Thomas Browne, several Shakespeare plays, Coleridge, Lamb, Wordsworth, and Rossetti. They make clear that Pater remains -- with Arnold, Ruskin, and Wilde -- among the great Victorian critics of art and literature.

The New State of the World Atlas , by Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal (Touchstone, $12.95). Which is the greenest continent of all? North America -- not that from a satellite it necessarily appears greener than anywhere else; rather, its nations evince a high level of environmental consciousness, according to the authors of this unusual atlas. (At the other end of the spectrum, the brownest countries include such international pariahs as Libya, Iran, and Afghanistan.) The U.S. and U.S.S.R. are both among the world's "purplest" countries -- those with the highest ratio of female to male wage-earners. A glance at the various colors assigned countries in South America discloses that the two wealthiest are Venezuela and Argentina. This book is packed with fascinating graphics, not all of them made emphatic by mere color. One eye-opening double page illustrates with various-sized rectangles how much of the world's GNP each country supplies: the leaders, together responsible for more than half the total output, are the U.S., U.S.S.R., and Japan. A must for chart-lovers everywhere.

POETRY

Collected Poems by Basil Bunting (Moyer Bell, $12.95) Before this collection was "heaped together" for publication in 1968, the British poet Basil Bunting (died 1965) had been writing poetry for 40 years; but, early and late in his career, he was used to a sparse readership. A friend of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky, Bunting was an erudite and retiring man whose inspiration derived from his native Northumberland and its "Celtic/Anglic" traditions: tracing the "plaited lines" of Lindisfarne, each of his poems was as carven, intricate and exact as a stone cross. "Words!/ Pens are too light./ Take a chisel to write." Bunting's best-known long poem, included here, is Briggflatts (1965), an "autobiography" hammered out between the slowworm and the stars, which like all his work appeals to the intellect as music and masonry do: through the senses. "In such soft air/ they trudge and sing,/ laying the tune frankly on the air."

Berta Broadfoot and Pepin the Short: A Merovingian Romance , by Barbara Goldberg, wood engravings by Rosemary Covey (The Word Works, P.O. Box 42164, Washington, D.C. 20015, $7). In this retelling in verse of the myth of Berta of Hungary, Berta marries Pepin the short, but a serving woman substitutes her daughter for Berta in the bridal bed. Orders are given for Berta to be killed, but she escapes, and eventually the serving woman's treachery is uncovered. The author writes that she was drawn to the myth because of the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship and "a woman's attempt to reconcile these two aspects of her nature, the rational and the instinctive." The Word Works has also published another collection of poems, Family & Other Strangers, by Shirley G. Cochrane ($5.95).