FICTION

A Stretch on the River

and

High Water

, by Richard Bissell (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 609 Cedar St., St. Paul, Minn. 55101; $8.95 each). The author grew up on the high bluffs above the Mississippi at Dubuque, Iowa, just as the steamboat era ended. Fascinated by its lore, he rafted and rowed on the great river and after Harvard joined a barge crew "as the only cook on the entire Mississippi-Ohio river system who qualified as a licensed anthropologist." Later, while working in the family clothing factory, he piloted boats and lived on a houseboat, experiences that provide the background for these trim, good-natured novels of river life, originally published in the '50s (Bissell's big success that decade was 7 1/2 Cents on which the musical The Pajama Game was based). In A Stretch on the River, a young man avoids the draft by working on a towboat. In High Water, the mate of a towboat has his hands full during the worst flood in living memory.

Dessa Rose

, by Sherley Anne Williams (Berkley, $3.95). This novel is based on the lives of two women who actually lived. One, black, in 1829 helped lead an escape attempt by a group of slaves, was caught, and sentenced to be hanged. The other, white, lived on an isolated farm in North Carolina and is reported to have helped runaway slaves. Though the two never met, author Sherley Anne Williams has fashioned a novel out of her imaginings of what might have happened if they had. "Slavery eliminated neither heroism nor love; it provided occasions for their expressions . . ." she writes in her author's note. "And what is here is as true as if I myself had lived it. Maybe it is only metaphor, but I now own a summer in the 19th century."

Bobby Rex's Greatest Hit

, by Marianne Gingher (Ballantine, $3.95). It's the summer of 1961, and things look fine for Pally Thompson. Having escaped high school, an awkward adolescence and life in the small town of Orfax, N.C., she's engaged to marry a man she loves. And then Bobby Rex, the boy everybody swooned for in high school (now grown and a rock 'n' roll star), writes a song called "Pally Thompson." And in it he tells the world what he and Pally did one night under the full moon, down by Sawyer's Creek. The only thing, Pally tries desperately to explain, is that nothing happened. What really did is the subject of this novel, and exploration of love and longing and the secrets of the human heart.

The Fisher King

, by Anthony Powell (Shoreline, $7.95). Since completing his monumental 12-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time, in 1975, Anthony Powell has hardly allowed his productivity to flag. He has written a multi-volume autobiography, some novellas, and now this full-length novel. The story of an aging society photographer who is traveling on an ocean liner with his much younger mistress, The Fisher King displays Powell's noted gift for social acuity, as in its observation of "the traditonal American goodhumored tolerance of neighbour or confre`re overcome by drink."

NONFICTION

Symbols of America

, by Hal Morgan (Steam Press/Penguin, $14.95). "Trademark and package designs," Hal Morgan writes in the introduction to Symbols of America, "form an important of our experience of being Americans. These are the symbols -- the personalities -- of the products we have bought, of the food we have eaten, and of the companies that we have relied on throughout our lives." Here are literally thousand of familiar (and not-so-familiar) symbols and trademarks, from ABC (the television network) to Zu Zu (ginger snaps). Both the histories and illustrations are fascinating: For example, the cartoon faces that adorn ads for The Pep Boys, Manny, Moe & Jack (auto parts stores) represent the three founders, whose nicknames really were Manny, Moe and Jack. There remains a slightly old-fashioned air about those three vested figures, but other companies strive to be current. The Morton Salt girl above dates from 1914. Since then, she has been updated several times, reflecting differences in hair and dress styles, though the little girl keeps smiling and the salt keeps pouring.

Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter,

by Theodore Rosengarten (McGraw-Hill, $12.95). Thomas B. Chaplin was a South Carolina cotton planter whose living was ruined by the Civil War. He is known to us today because he kept a journal (from 1845-1858) in which he faithfully recorded his life and his times. In this volume, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, Theodore Rosengarten provides a biography of Chaplin and a picture of the world he lived in, a world where cotton was king and the slave-owning planter an aristocrat in his kingdom. The second half of the book reproduces Chaplin's journal and the small details of his life -- who came calling, who was sick, his debts and being dunned, which crops it was time to plant.

Migrations of the Heart

, by Marita Golden (Ballantine, $3.50). In this autobiography, local author Marita Golden writes of her life as a student activist in Washington during the '60s, as a journalist and television producer in New York, and of her life in Nigeria, where she married an African. Like others who have gone to Africa, she found life on the continent both strange and exhilarating, as she embarked on a journey into a culture different from her own. In time, however, the marriage began to founder and Golden, now a mother, faced a new set of challenges. Her story is an always moving odyssey of self-discovery.

A Field Guide To Impossible Men,

by Linda Stasi (St. Martin's, $6.95). With a steadily expanding number of self-help books devoted to helping us get into (or out of) relationships, it's refreshing to see one that that doesn't take the whole thing quite so seriously. Here Lina Stasi (editor-in-chief at Beauty Digest) takes a look at 10 kinds of Impossible Men, among them the Mogul, the Jock, the Married Man and the Awesomely Uncommitted. Despite the playful categories and the tongue-in-cheek tone throughout, there are more than a few trenchant observations on the dilemmas of the modern woman.

The 100th Boyfriend,

by Bridget Daly and Janet Skeels (Real Comet Press, 3131 Western Ave., No. 410, Seattle WA; $5.95). "Women," write the authors of this book, "have always told stories about their lovers, but their narratives were dismissed as chat, or worse yet, gossip. We mourn the many stories that, left unwritten, were forgotten and died." The 100th Boyfriend is a collection of anecdotes by women about men they have loved. Some are mere one-liners: "His big goal in life was to roll his '67 Buick Skylark," or "Lee couldn't read or write, but was double-jointed." And then there are the humorous ones, like this one: "Robert once brought her chocolates. She opened the little white sack and there were only three left and even these were a bit chewed up. He'd gotten upset because she was late and he had eaten them without realizing it."