Sula, Song of Solomon and Tar Baby , by Toni Morrison (Plume/New American Library, $6.95 and $7.95). To coincide with the publication of Toni Morrison's new novel, Beloved, Plume/New American Library has reissued three of her earlier ones in handsome, uniform paperback editions. Sula was published in 1973, Song of Solomon in 1977 and Tar Baby in 1981. Read consecutively, they reveal Morrison's steady evolution from a miniaturist into an ambitious chronicler of black American life in all its variety. Sula is about the friendship of two black women from a small Ohio town whose lives force the black residents of that town to confront the realities of their own existence; Song of Solomon, regarded by many readers as Morrison's best novel, is a highly allegorical examination of black family life, a persistent theme in her work; and Tar Baby, which is set in the Caribbean, deals more directly with black- white relations than any of Morrison's work except Beloved. Taken as a group, these three books leave no doubt as to the breadth of Morrison's accomplishments or her stature among American writers.
The Man Who Made the Devil Glad , by Donald McCaig (St. Martin's, $3.95). Part mystery, part love story, part hill country bad-man saga, this novel by the author of Nop's Trials defies easy categorization. The novel concerns the trials of Tucker County, West Virginia Sheriff Cub Hamill, who loses an election and then -- at the same time he falls in love with the local postmistress -- finds himself in the middle of a mystery involving drugs, corruption and murder. The plot is taut and suspenseful, but the real pleasure of this book is the language, plain and direct and as clean as the air in the hills McCaig writes of.
Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York , by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., P.O. Box 283, Chelsea, Vt. 05038). A companion to the authors' Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris, this fascinating work covers more than 20 New York-area cemeteries from Nyack to East Hampton. There are 12 maps, 112 photos and 17 walking tours. Among those profiled are Alexander Hamilton (buried in Trinity Churchyard in the midst of the Wall Street district); Arctic explorer George Washington De Long (his monument shows him wearing a hooded parka, mittened hand raised to his forehead); Herman Melville (whose Woodlawn Cemetery grave is marked by a monument that represents only a blank scroll); and jazz singer Billie Holiday (who is buried in the same cemetery with gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll and Mary "Typhoid Mary" Mallon).
When the War Was Over: Cambodia's Revolution and the Voices of Its People , by Elizabeth Becker (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, $9.95). Nearly 2 million Cambodians were killed by Pol Pot's communist regime after its coming to power in 1975, a record for repression even by the terrible standards of the 20th century. But the sufferings of that unhappy country were by no means over, for in 1978-79 the Vietnamese invaded, forcing Pol Pot to flee to the area near Cambodia's border with Thailand, where he continues a guerrilla war to this day. Here is the definitive, anguished account of how a beautiful country was turned into a charnel house. The author is a former reporter for The Washington Post.
Fast Company , by Jon Bradshaw (Vintage, $6.95). In the world of the six gamblers profiled in the collection, some are winners and some are losers. But, says master poker player (and not-bad-at-all golfer) Pug Pearson, "Gambling isn't the money . . . . It's the competition." The concentration with which Pearson and the other subjects of this book -- Bobby Riggs, Minnesota Fats, Tim Holland, Johnny Moss and Titanic Thompson -- approach their pastimes bespeaks not addiction so much as concentration and a determination to win by covering all the angles. As Minnesota Fats puts it, "The Fat Man don't make mistakes. Only suckers make mistakes." Bradshaw got the six gamblers to tell him of their lives, the lean times and the flush times, and throughout it all their voices sound calm and self-assured. When they hint at wishing they had done something else with their lives, it's hard for them not to sound proud anyway. Pearson says, "Time passes the quickest during a poker game. Why, I got up from a game once, turned around a couple of times, and five or six years had gone by." And you get the feeling it didn't matter to him at all.
Authoritarian Regimes in Transition , edited by Hans Binnendijk with Peggy Nalle and Diane Bendahmane (Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Dept. of State, Government Printing Office, $10). In 1970, soon after University of Texas professor James A. Bill arrived in Tehran, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Saidi was tortured and killed: "His murder was all anyone in Iran was talking about. Saidi, a close follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is reported to have said as he died: 'I swear to God, if you kill me, in every drop of my blood you will see the holy name of Khomeini.' " When Bill returned to Iran in 1974, he was told by bookstore owners "that 60-70 percent of the books being published in Tehran in Persian were on religious subjects," more evidence that should have been heeded before the Iranian pressure cooker exploded. In an effort to avoid future surprises and to learn from the past, career diplomats and professors and current and former senior government officials such as Frank C. Carlucci and Jeane Kirkpatrick met to discuss 11 case studies of authoritarian regimes. The result is a lively exchange of information and ideas.
Degrees of Difficulty , by Vladimir Shatayev (The Mountaineers, 306 Second Ave. W., Seattle, Wash. 98119). This is a mountaineering memoir with a difference: the author is one of Russia's most celebrated climbers. In one of the least-noticed international goodwill gestures, Russians and Americans have been scaling peaks together since 1974. This book focuses on the first international assault on the High Pamirs of Central Asia, in which the author's wife was killed.
Merry Gentlemen (and One Lady) , by J. Bryan III (Atheneum, $9.95). J. Bryan here provides brief portraits of 14 writers, humorists and pranksters from Fred Allen to Donald Ogden Stewart. Many of Bryan's subjects -- Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, S.J. Perelman and John Steinbeck, for example -- have been written about at length. But it is worth reading about others, like Hugh Troy, writer and painter, creator of the "fly report," which required World War II mess officers to report weekly on the number of flies caught in their mess halls, and author of this spurious letterhead: "Shirley, Goodness & Murphy, Private Detectives, 'We follow you all the days of your life.' "