Sunflower , by Rebecca West (Penguin, $7.95). This is another entry in the long line of posthumous books by England's wittiest feminist writer. She admitted to having trouble finishing her work (though in her 90 years she produced some 15 books), and this novel in particular languished because it tells the thinly-disguised story of her love affair -- on the rebound from H.G. Wells -- with the English press magnate, Lord Beaverbrook. Like all her work, it is replete with barbed portraits and telling comparisons, such as two kept women sitting "silent while the man-talk went on over their heads, hard, metallically glittering, fire-spun, incomprehensible, like the . . . tangle of wire and girders one sees, if one lifts one's eyes as one passes a great office building when it is being put up."
Augustus Carp, Esq. , by Himself (Penguin, $4.95). The narrator of this exquisitely funny satire is the self-same Augustus Carp, who at the age of 47 feels moved by the urge "to place some higher example before the world." That example is himself and the stainless life he has led, for Augustus Carp is the very soul of stuffy, priggish self-righteousness: a man of false piety and inveterate deviousness, of exaggerated manners and coarse ambition, of ostentatious temperance and gross appetite. He is in sum the ultimate parody of middle-class British gentility, and one could scarcely ask for parody more deftly or entertainingly done. His "autobiography" was first published, anonymously, in 1924. Subsequently its actual author was identified as Sir Henry Howarth Bashford, a physician of distinction and author of numerous works of nonfiction. As Anthony Burgess tells us in his afterword to this most welcome edition, Augustus Carp, Esq., acquired a small but passionate cult following over the years; now it is time for the fellow to acquire the large readership he so odiously deserves.
Portrait of the Artist: 25 Years of British Art , by Jorge Lewinski (Carcanet/ Harper & Row, $24.95). It is always fascinating, though purists may not admit it, to glimpse the faces of the artists behind the masks of their paintings, drawings or statues. Photographed, as 77 British artists have been here, by master portraitist Jorge Lewinski, their images become themselves works of art. Lewinski shoots his subjects casually, in their studios or workshops, men and women representing a solid cross-section of British art in the last quarter-century. Here we find Henry Moore among his massive, chthonic sculptures; a scarecrow-like Ivon Hitchens framed by sunny leaves; Ceri Richards musing at the piano; David Hockney with dyed platinum-blond hair and outsize glasses; and beautiful Bridget Riley in black and white to match her own striking graphics.
Opening Up the Soviet Economy , by Jerry Hough (Brookings, $8.95). The author, who teaches at Duke and commutes to a Washington think tank, is one of a handful of Soviet experts who seems to know what he's talking about. In this brief study, he looks at what effect the introduction of domestic and foreign competitiveness will have on the Russian economy, a subject of critical significance to American policy.
A Dickens Companion , by Norman Page (Schocken, $11.95). If Santa brought you the handsome Oxford edition of Dickens, or if you have always felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the Victorian novelist's writing, you may welcome a little guidance to his fictive world. This companion provides virtually all the scholarly data an ordinary reader might require: A history of the composition of each book, lists of characters, the critical reception, selected illustrations and all kinds of background material. Very handy and authoritative.
All the Small Poems , by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $3.50). It's not necessarily safe to assume your children will discover poetry all by themselves; it's safer to leave subversively readable little books like this one where they will trip over them, even if they won't stand for you to read them aloud. What Worth's poems (the four original Small Poems books gathered here for the first time in one volume) do is force the reader simply to take another look at, to smell or touch or hear again, the little things -- fireworks, bells, lawnmowers, mushrooms, coathangers, dandelions, doors, pies and pebbles -- that we ordinarily take for granted. Take "mantis": "Folding/ The wrists,/ And treading/ So slowly,/ Can it/ Really be/ Wholly/ Holy,/ Pretending/ To pray,/ While intending/ To prey?" Soon the urge to try one's own hand at a small poem may become irresistible.
American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late, selected and introduced by Andrei Codrescu (4 Walls 8 Windows, $12.95). Seeing itself as a successor to the 1960 Grove anthology, New American Poetry, this hefty collection offers samples of the more radical, experimental and committed poetry of the past 20 years. Editor Codrescu likes mavericks, and scorns tame academic verse; the new formalism is not to his taste. Rather here are the successors to Black Mountain, the Beats and the San Francisco Zens: Ted Berrigan, John Giorno, Bernadette Mayer, Anselm Hollo, Tom Clark, Clarence Major, Anne Waldman, Philip Lamantia, and many, many others. This is a first-rate introduction to younger poets, many as obsessed with the image as early Pound. Also of interest is A Craving for Swan (Ohio State University Press, $8.95), which gathers Codrescu's idiosyncratic and charming radio essays -- on McDonald's, space, poetry, ghost writing -- from National Public Radio.