FICTION

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks , by Donald Harington (Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $7.95). The brothers Jacob and Noah Ingledew walk 600 miles from their home in Tennessee to found, in a narrow winding Arkansas valley, the small village of Stay More. This exuberant, labyrinthine novel traces six generations of Stay Morons through 140 years of life, love, local custom, architecture and, above all, language (the latter two Harington seems to regard as interchangeable, which makes for some memorable digressions, e.g.: "When we speak of 'the bois d'arc in the arciform architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks,' every unit in this sentence can be traced to the same root.") Also delightful and unusual are the author's pencil sketches of Arkansas houses, huts, hovels, hives, stores, barns and schoolhouses that head each chapter.

Nightrunners of Bengal , by John Masters (Carroll & Graf, $4.50). In summer 1857 the native regiments of Britain's garrisons in India mutinied. Within weeks, accompanied by the massacre of many Europeans, including women and children, the mutiny developed into a full-fledged revolt against the raj. The so-called Sepoy Rebellion was savagely put down by the British -- convicted mutineers were literally shot from cannon -- and led to assumption of direct rule by London in place of the East India Company. The episode has been treated in excellent historical novels by J.G. Farrell (The Siege of Krishnapur) and Valerie FitzGerald (Zemindar). But this 1951 novel remains the best, in part because the author, descendant of an Anglo-Indian family, had a passionate familiarity with India and actually commanded Gurkhas in World War II.

The Golden Age of Trash: Cartoons for the Eighties , by Lee Lorenz (Chronicle Books, $8.95). A harried businessman, leaning on the bar and obviously looped, stares down his bulbous red nose at a tumbler of whisky. Behind him is a madhouse of men and women fighting in a blur of fists and faces. The drunk speaks to the barkeep: "What ever became of the comity once deemed essential to civilized discourse?" Such literate humor -- seldom quite so learned as this -- marks all of Lorenz's cartoons, provoking a smile more often than a guffaw. But these days even a smile is welcome. Lorenz has got the character of the urban upper classes down pat, every cliche', every trend. Some spear-throwing natives observe the local volcano erupting: "The gods seem in touch with their anger tonight." An elegant dowager asks her portly but equally elegant husband, as they stand at the elevator, "When did you start referring to Nixon as the Old Warrior?" Connoisseurs of cartoons, enjoy.

The Bantam Shakespeare , edited by David Bevington; with a foreword by Joseph Papp (Bantam, volumes priced between $2.75 and $4.95). There are many editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems, but this set from Bantam is an especially attractive one for young people or readers on the go. Most plays rate a separate volume, all notes appear at the bottom of the page, each character's speeches are signaled by his full name (rather than the irritating abbreviations common to some editions), the prefatory material is useful (Bevington) and mildly inspirational (Papp), and the appendices include Shakespeare source material, a guide to further reading, and a list of notable passages. Above all, these paperbacks are nicely printed and cheap: You might carry one in your briefcase or back pocket and actually read it on the subway.

The Adventures of Max Latin , by Norbert Davis (Mysterious Library, $8.95). Virtually every anthology of pulp detective fiction carries at least one story by Norbert Davis; after so much tantalizing it's a treat to have five long adventures together in one book. What makes these Max Latin stories beguiling is their humor, an almost tongue-in-cheek playing with the usual elements of hard-boiled writing. Latin's office is a booth in a restaurant run by an irritable chef, who reviles the customers who adore his cooking. In "Watch Me Kill You!" the lead novelette, Latin has just gotten out of the slammer and is hired to persuade a prosperous painter to sell some canvases to the sister he hates. Bullets start to fly right quick, but Latin's gun is even quicker; the end has a double twist, neither exactly a surprise but both nicely done. Imagine a blend of Nick Charles and Philip Marlowe, but without the genius of Hammett and Chandler, and you'll know what to expect. Good fun, despite John D. MacDonald's rather half-hearted appreciation.

NONFICTION

Truman Capote: Dear Heart, Old Buddy , by John Malcolm Brinnin (Dell, $9.95). Much has been written about Capote since his death but none of the books matches this one: Poet, biographer and social historian Brinnin draws on his detailed journals to reconstruct his encounters with the seductive TC. The result is a blend of first-rate gossip, telling critical comment, and beautifully composed memoir. In short, caviar for anyone fascinated by the New York literary scene of the '50s and '60s.

The Story and the Fable , by Edwin Muir (Rowan Tree Press, $13.95) Once honored as one of the most eminent Scots poets to have written in English, well-known as a literary critic and (with his wife Willa) as an early translator of Kafka, Edwin Muir's reputation has been somewhat in eclipse since his death in 1959. Yet his poetry and this autobiographical memoir (from 1940) retain their appeal, the work of a decent, original and sensitive mind. Muir was born in the remote Scottish island of Orkney in 1887, "a place," as he revealingly observes, "where there was no great distinction between the ordinary and the fabulous." From the paradisal state of his childhood Muir was taken at the age of 15 to live in Glasgow, which he experienced, according to this memoir, as a version of hell, a rite of passage somehow emblematic of western man's transition from the preindustrial to the modern age.

Fatal Charms and Other Tales of Today , by Dominick Dunne (Bantam, $4.50). The 13 stories in this collection were orginally published in the magazine Vanity Fair and as one might expect, most are portraits from high society -- a guided tour of lifestyles of the rich, would-be rich, and infamous. Included are heiress and jeans designer Gloria Vanderbilt, the millionaire's mistress Vicki Morgan, and Claus Von Bu low, who stood trial after he was accused of having injected his rich wife with insulin. These pieces are often slyly irreverent, and there is a certain titillating pleasure to be had from reading them. But the best, and most poignant, is Dominick Dunne's account of the murder of his daughter, Dominique, an actress, and the trial and conviction of her killer.

The Alligator's Life History , by E.A. McIlhenny (Ten Speed Press. $7.95). A classic in print again after almost 50 years, The Alligator's Life History was long one of few existing sources on these great reptiles. E.A. McIlhenny (of the McIlhenny Tabasco sauce family) grew up in Louisiana and studied alligators throughout his life, finally publishing his observations, facts, folklore and personal reminiscences. "In these days the alligators in the streams about the place were more than numerous," he wrote of his boyhood. "We had no fear of them and would swim around the big fellows, dive under them and sometimes treat them with great disrespect by bringing handfuls of mud from the bottom and 'chucking' it in their eyes . . ." Photographs taken by the author include "a Twelve-foot Male Alligator Taking a Sun Bath" and "She Rushed at me With Mouth Open."

Ring of Bright Water , by Gavin Maxwell (Penguin, $6.95). Gavin Maxwell's memoir of his "life in a lonely cottage on the north-west coast of Scotland," about the animals and the few people who shared with him that "landscape of rock and sea," is so well known as to scarcely need mention; yet it is worth remembering that Maxwell, a moody, enigmatic, brilliant man who died in 1959, was one of the finest English prose writers and amateur naturalists of his day. Less than enamored of human beings, Maxwell loved animals and Ring of Bright Water is his tribute to them, especially the otters Mijbil and Edal, who were certainly funnier and more endearing than most people. The account of Mij's death is heartrending. For another obliquely illuminating view of Maxwell, see The Lion's Mouth, the third volume of poet Kathleen Raine's autobiography.

From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet , by Vikram Seth (Vintage Departures, $5.95) From 1980 to 1982 Vikram Seth -- who has since become famous as the author of The Golden Gate, a novel in verse set in San Francisco -- was a graduate student at Nanjing University in China. In the summer of 1981 he decided to hitch-hike home to his native Delhi, India; his route took him from the oases of northwest China across four Chinese provinces, to the Himalayas and across Tibet and Nepal. From Heaven Lake is based on the journal he kept while he was on the road. Fluent in Chinese, an irrepressibly curious and articulate observer, Seth throws light on some truly unfamiliar places; "to learn about another great culture," he remarks, "is . . . indirectly to add to that reservoir of individual good will that may, generations from now, temper the cynical use of national power."

Travels , by William Bartram (Penguin, $7.95). In 1773 the Philadelphia-born botanist William Bartram set out to explore what is now the southeastern United States. In 1791 he published his account of that journey, the first major work of natural history to appear in the fledgling nation. In his introduction poet and novelist James Dickey assures the travel-minded reader that "even now parts of South Georgia and North Florida {are} still recognizable from Bartram's descriptions." The descriptions themselves are florid, rhapsodic, inimitable: "The extensive Alachua savanna . . . is encircled with high, sloping hills, covered with waving forests and fragrant Orange groves, rising from an exuberantly fertile soil."