Elvis World , by Jane and Michael Stern (Harper, $18.95). This book is everything (and more) you always wanted to know about Elvis Presley, but were afraid to ask. Profusely illustrated, there are the pictures of Presley all of us have seen -- on tip-toes in blue suede shoes, acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, sneering into the mike -- as well as some we have not -- Elvis at home with his mom and dad, Gladys and Vernon. The tone here is, for the most part, tongue in cheek, as a sampling of the chapter titles suggests: "The Shock of Elvis"; "Gilded Elvis"; "Wonders of Elvis World"; and "Elvis World Literature."
Shakespeare: His Life, His Language, His Theater , by S. Schoenbaum (Signet, $4.95). Written by the foremost authority on Shakespeare's life, this handbook covers, with elegance and conciseness, virtually everything a new reader of Shakespeare needs to know about the playwright's life and career. Schoenbaum crisply outlines what is known of the early years, mentions some of the commoner legends surrounding the Bard, describes the Elizabethan theatrical scene, and offers one- or two-page commentaries on each of the plays and poems. A clutch of illustrations and a reading list add to the book's usefulness, making it a fine capstone to the Signet editions of the works.
The Holy Goof: A Biography of Neal Cassady , by William Plummer (Paragon House, $9.95). Car thief and sometime hustler, Neal Cassady became an avatar of the Beat Generation -- Jack Kerouac modeled the hero of his novel On the Road after Cassady. Allen Ginsberg featured Cassady in Howl as "N.C., the secret hero of these poems." But Cassady's influence goes beyond the '50s -- in 1964, he joined Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, driving the Day-Glo painted bus whose destination sign read "Further," thus serving as a link between the Beats and the hippies. Paragon House has also published The Spontaneous Poetics of Jack Kerouac: A Study of the Fiction, by Regina Weinreich ($9.95).
After All These Years: Sixties Ideals in a Different World , by Lauren Kessler (Thunder's Mouth, $13.95). For some, the '60s were, as an unnamed 22-year-old puts it in the preface to this book, "like one of those stories where nobody laughs and you say, 'I guess you had to be there.' " This is a collection of interviews with 50 men and women who were there. Some are familiar names -- Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Arlo Guthrie -- while others are less well-known. For all, however, "the sixties exist in a very real and very important way as the sum of certain core countercultural values that continue to play a vital part in people's lives."
The Real McCoy: African-American Invention and Innovation 1619-1930 , by Portia P. James (Smithsonian Institution Press; Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., 17294; $17.50). The "Real McCoy" of the title, writes Portia P. James, was the term that came to be applied to the locomotive lubricating device created by Elijah McCoy, a black inventor who died in 1929. McCoy's devices were so reliable and efficient they set the standard for the railroads, and trainmen wanted no imitations. This book (published in conjunction with an exhibit at the Anacostia Museum) surveys the work of numerous black inventors, including Benjamin Banneker, who devised an almanac in 1791, to Lewis Latimer, a patent draftsman for Alexander Graham Bell and the inventor of a cost-saving method of producing filaments for electric lightbulbs.
Off in a Boat , by Neil Gunn (New Amsterdam Books, 171 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; $11.95). When writer Neil Gunn decided in 1937 to leave the Scottish civil service and to buy a boat, he "did things first" and "met the consequences after." The boat had seen far better days. Its engine was inclined to balk. Still, Gunn and his wife, Daisy, and his brother, John, enjoyed a three-month voyage around the Hebrides without significant mishap. This book is an account of that voyage.