Soldier's Joy, by Madison Smartt Bell (Penguin, $8.95). Soldier's Joy is the story of Thomas Laidlaw and his boyhood friend, Rodney Redmon. Both Vietnam vets, they are trying to sort out their lives. Laidlaw, living on the Tennessee farm his father has left him, practices his banjo playing as he tries to regain some sense of himself. Redmon, who has served time in prison, works in a warehouse. But it is 1972 and Laidlaw is white and Redmon black, and soon the world will force them either to betray what they have shared or fight for the rightness of it.
The Lonely Hearts Club by Raul Nunz, translated from the Spanish by Ed Emery (Serpent's Tail, $10.95). At 40, Antonio Castro has hit bottom -- his wife has run away with another man and he's lost his job as a door-to-door salesman -- and it is small comfort that everybody says he looks like Frank Sinatra. But Castro's life changes when he joins a lonely-hearts club and his picture is printed in the newsletter. Suddenly, there are lots of people who want to meet him and become part of his life, among them a gay waiter, a widow and a dwarf poet.
A Casual Brutality, by Neil Bissoondath (Ivy, $4.95). Once, Raj Ramsingh could not wait to leave the small Caribbean island where he was born. Now a medical doctor, he has returned to Casequemada with his white wife and their son, knowing only that he wants to give something back to the island and its people. But the island is different now. Since independence, there have been increasing tensions between blacks and the Indian minority, and armed men roam the country in the name of the law. Horrified by the violence that surrounds him, Ramsingh soon begins to realize that the English translation of the island's name -- "house burned" -- seems more and more appropriate.
The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, by John Fricke, Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (Warner, $16.95). Oz fans will click their heels three times: This is a lavish, picture-filled album covering every facet of the casting, filming and marketing of The Wizard of Oz, quite probably the best-loved of all American fantasy movies. Surprisingly, this apparently seamless masterpiece was in fact cobbled together: Several writers and directors worked on it; the script went through many changes, as did the songs; and it took quite a while to settle on the right actors for the various roles. Still they all got it right in the end. To paraphrase Dorothy, there's no place like Oz.
The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958, by John Litweiler (Da Capo, $12.95). "The quest for freedom . . . appears at the very beginning of jazz and reappears at every growing point in the music's history," writes John Litweiler in the first chapter of this book. His point is that the music of the 1960s (to some ears dissonant and anarchic) represents an extension of the process that began with Louis Armstrong's "liberation of the late twenties jazz soloist" and continues with the music of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Each of these musicians is discussed in separate chapters, but Litweiler also devotes much of the book to a discussion of the work of Anthony Braxton, Miles Davis, and the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
Jazz in the Sixties: The Expansion of Musical Resources and Techniques, by Michael J. Budds (University of Iowa Press, $11.95). This is a somewhat scholarly survey of jazz that begins with an examination of jazz styles before 1960 -- Dixieland, swing, bop -- and continues with the music that came afterwards. The book does not, however, focus on personalities, but on structures and analysis. Thus there are chapters titled "Texture and Volume," "Melody and Harmony" and "Meter and Rhythm." Michael J. Budds also includes scored examples to illustrate his analysis, as well as a discography of recordings cited.
Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, by David Stenn (Penguin, $8.95). The caption to a glamorous photo of the It-Girl-to-be (and the subject of this biography) speaks volumes about her tangled life: "Clara was sixteen. Her mother had just tried to kill her." Born to a family plagued by insanity and poverty, Clara Bow became a movie star in quintessential early-Hollywood style, by winning a fan-magazine contest. "It" was a euphemism for sex, which the sultry-eyed Bow had no compunctions about projecting -- and indulging in. Fallout from her affairs with her leading men destroyed her career when she was only 25.
King of Comedy, by Mack Sennett with Cameron Shipp (Mercury House, $10.95). Jean Renoir envied this silent-era master of slapstick comedy for the ease with which he got his actors to improvise bits that looked well-wrought on the screen. Sennett, who tells his own story in this reprint of a 1954 book, sent the Keystone Cops out on the streets, made a star of Mabel Normand, and armed Ben Turpin and Fatty Arbuckle with their first custard pies. He was also a notable discoverer of talent, including Charlie Chaplin and Carole Lombard. When asked if there was more sin in Hollywood than there used to be, he replied: "Do you think there is more in Cedar Rapids than there used to be?"