FICTION

Drunk With Love

, by Ellen Gilchrist (Little, Brown, $7.95). This is the third volume of short stories by the author of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams and Victory Over Japan. Admirers of those earlier books will be pleased to re-encounter old friends, notably Rhoda Manning, now grown to adulthood, and Nora Jean Whittington, still making her hazy way through life's various challenges. Gilchrist's voice is both original and distinctive, and her humor is, as in the past, irreverent.

The Ropespinner Conspiracy

, by Michael M. Thomas (Warner, $4.95). The central conceit of this imaginative, entertaining and polemical novel is that all the economic and financial upheavals of the past couple of decades -- leveraged buyouts, junk bonds, the big boom market -- were deliberately orchestrated by a powerful New York banker in cahoots with agents of the Soviet Union. What Thomas is saying is that the Russians couldn't have done a better job of creating economic disarray in the West than we've managed to do ourselves; in light of recent news from the financial markets, The Ropespinner Conspiracy is as eerie as it is entertaining.

Calling Dr. Whoopee!

by G.B. Trudeau (Henry Holt, $5.95). There all here: The Oral Roberts Death Watch; Rick, Joanie and son Jeff's adventures in daycare; Boopsie and B.D. entering California New Age consciousness; the death of Dick Davenport at the moment he achieves bird-watching immortality; Dr. Whoopee and safe sex; and of course Roland Hedley's epic "The Return to Reagan's Brain."

MYSTERIES

Live Flesh

, by Ruth Rendell (Ballantine, $3.95). There are now three kinds of Ruth Rendell mysteries: the Wexford novels, set in the fictional English town of Kingsmarkham and featuring a physically unimpressive but quietly cunning police inspector; the book-length portraits of criminal psychology; and the genre-transcending novels that she has recently been publishing under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine. Live Flesh falls into the second of those categories, in which some critics believe Rendell has made her most original contributions to crime fiction. It is the story of a convict, let out after 10 years of doing time, who becomes friends with the very policeman whom he shot.

Fast One

and

Seven Slayers

, both by Paul Cain (Black Lizard, $3.95 each). In the mean streets of hardboiled fiction, no book has ever got the drop on Fast One. Its tone is cool and world weary; the characters make Sam Spade look like a cupcake; and the world portrayed is totally amoral. As for the sentences! They rain down as steadily as a boxer in for the kill. Kells is set up as the fall guy for a gangster kingpin's murder; to clear himself he must take on most of the mob and deal with a beauty known only as Granquist. The ending is not a happy one. In Seven Slayers readers can sample Paul Cain -- not to be confused with James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice -- in shorter sips: In "Parlor Trick," for instance, he finishes a grisly murder tale with an O.Henry twist.

NONFICTION

Uncivil Liberties

, by Calvin Trillin (Penguin, $7.95). In the late 1970s Trillin, until then best-known as a writer about culinary matters and Americana for The New Yorker, began a weekly humorous column about politics and society in The Nation. This collection, originally published in 1982, brings together 50 of the earliest and best of the pieces. Trillin takes on everyone from Ronald Reagan to Oscar de la Renta, with stops along the way at whatever contemporary lunacy catches his fancy. His rule of thumb is as follows: "In modern America, anyone who attempts to write satirically about the events of the day finds it difficult to concoct a situation so bizarre that it may not actually come to pass while his article is still on the presses."

The League: Inside the NFL

, by David Harris (Bantam, $4.95). Readers and fans who follow the National Football League closely will not find a great deal of new or surprising information in David Harris' study, but nowhere else can they find so much of it. Harris' subject is not the game on the field but the front-office maneuverings and dealings of its owners and general managers. His portrait of the NFL is considerably less than flattering, especially insofar as its owners have used threats of franchise shifts in order to persuade municipalities and states to build new stadia for them at taxpayers' expense.

On Acting

, by Laurence Olivier (Touchstone, $8.95). Sir Laurence's exploration of his craft is both analysis and memoir. He writes about his long, immensely distinguished career with candor and good humor, telling stories not merely on himself but also on such friends, contemporaries and rivals as John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. His reflections on acting are frequently provocative and always passionate; for all his self-mockery, he obviously believes -- and obviously with good reason -- that he knows as much about the business as anyone now alive.

Dancing On My Grave

, by Gelsey Kirkland with Greg Lawrence (Jove, $4.50) In recent years no American ballerina has seemed so dazzling, nor acquired so legendary a reputation, as Gelsey Kirkland. Beginning as the precocious prote'ge' of George Balanchine, later starring with the American Ballet Theatre as Mikhail Baryshnikov's partner (both on and off stage), Kirkland was nevertheless as vulnerable as a time-bomb. Eventually the pressures of her rigorous training and scheduling, her own quest for perfection and her deteriorating relationship with Baryshnikov pushed her over the edge: she ran "through all the fashionable forms of self-destruction" -- anorexia, cosmetic surgery amounting to self-mutilation, and cocaine addiction. In her no-holds-barred story, which shocked the closed world of American ballet, Kirkland spares neither herself nor her mentors. Her honesty makes the account of her later recovery and return to dancing that much more moving.

The Best American Essays 1987

, edited by Gay Talese (Ticknor & Fields, $$8.95). This, the second annual collection of what an eminent journalist considers the best essays of the year, contains several gems: prose-poet Gretel Ehrlich writing on spring in the Rockies; novelist Robert Stone discoursing on cocaine; and humorist Calvin Trillin writing in a serious vein about a murder. But perhaps best of all there is Gary Giddins, a staff writer for The Village Voice, who serves up a heartfelt and hilarious appreciation of the great comic Jack Benny, titled memorably -- and anent Benny's persona of the ultimate tightwad -- "This Guy Wouldn't Give You the Parsley Off His Fish."

Live Flesh, by Ruth Rendell (Ballantine, $3.95). There are now three kinds of Ruth Rendell mysteries: the Wexford novels, set in the fictional English town of Kingsmarkham and featuring a physically unimpressive but quietly cunning police inspector; the book-length portraits of criminal psychology; and the genre-transcendng novels that she has recently been publishing under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine. Live Flesh falls into the second of those categories, in which some critics believe Rendell has made her most original contributions to crime fiction. It is the story of a convict, let out after 10 years of doing time, who becomes friends with the very policeman whom he shot.

Fast One and Seven Slayers, both by Paul Cain (Black Lizard, $3.95 each). In the mean streets of hardboiled fiction, no book has ever got the drop on Fast One. Its tone is cool and world weary; the characters make Sam Spade look like a cupcake; and the world portrayed is totally amoral. As for the sentences! They rain down as steadily as a boxer in for the kill. Kells is set up as the fall guy for a gangster kingpin's murder; to clear himself he must take on most of the mob and deal with a beauty known only as Granquist. The ending is not a happy one. In Seven Slayers readers can sample Paul Cain-not to be confused with James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice-in shorter sips: In "Parlor Trick," for instance, he finishes a grisly murder tale with an O.Henry twist.