Shaw: Interviews and Recollections , edited by A.M. Gibbs (University of Iowa, $39.95). Pugnacious, effortlessly witty, the grandstanding showman of Fabianism and author of more good plays than anyone this side of Shakespeare and Moliere, Bernard Shaw lived for some 90-odd, very odd, years and nobody who ever met him ever forgot him. This hefty volume gathers reminiscences by famous contemporaries (Churchill, Yeats), interviews in various periodicals and informed connecting commentary (by editor Gibbs) to make an attractive companion to Michael Holroyd's ongoing three-volume life.
Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution (1917-1921) , by Orlando Figes (Oxford University Press, $72). Why did the Bolsheviks win the civil war that followed the October revolution of 1917? After all, their support was centered mainly in the big cities among members of a working class that numbered only 3 to 4 million people out of a total population of 160 million. In other words, four out of five Russians were peasants. The author of this important work, a young British historian, was permitted unparalleled access to the Soviet archives. His is the first non-Soviet history of the relationship between the Bolsheviks and the peasants in the critical period of the revolution. Figes concludes that the Bolsheviks prevented a counterrevolution in rural Russia by destroying the power of the landowners, eliminating rural poverty and encouraging literacy.
A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews , compiled and edited by Arbie Orenstein (Columbia University Press, $49). Anyone interested in Ravel -- composer of "Bolero," "Pavane pour une Infante Defunte," etc. etc. -- should start with this reader. In some 600 pages Orenstein offers letters to and from Ravel (friends include Colette, Cocteau, Stravinsky), articles and criticism written by the composer, interviews with him, memoirs by his contemporaries, two dozen pages of photographs, and a long series of appendices that includes a discography, a listing of the master's personal record collection and the locations of important Ravel source material. Couple all this with Orenstein's authoritative introduction and notes and the result is a major scholarly resource and a delightful browsing book.
Brisees: Broken Branches , by Michel Leiris; translated from the French by Lydia Davis (North Point, $21.95). Michel Leiris is best known for a vast autobiographical enterprise, laced with painful revelations and marked by an exceptional philosophical density, that remains largely untranslated -- except for the stunning Manhood, which in its English version by Richard Howard became the subject of a celebrated essay by Susan Sontag. This book gathers Leiris's more casual pieces of the last 50 years -- book reviews, talks, articles -- with a focus on the writers and artists that have most interested him: Raymond Roussel, Erik Satie, Mallarme, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Jarry, Giacometti, Aime Cesaire, Michel Butor. Interspersed with these are offbeat reflections on subjects as various as saliva, metaphor, "the use of Catholic chromolithographs by Haitian voodooists" and ethnography (Leiris's professional field).
Lydia and Maynard: The Letters of John Maynard Keynes and Lydia Lopokova , edited by Polly Hill and Richard Keynes (Scribners, $24.95). Bloomsbury fans, having finished with the diaries and letters of Virginia Woolf, have lately been able to enjoy the letters of James and Alix Strachey (brother and sister-in-law of Lytton, editors and translators of Freud) and may now turn to this charming, improbable and highly romantic correspondence. The economist Keynes, though basically homosexual, found himself deeply attracted to Lopokova, one of the leading ballerinas of Diaghilev's Ballet Russe. Their flirtatious, bantering notes -- written in a rather broken English by Lopokova -- reveal the growth of a mutual passion that culminated in a long and happy marriage. It is delightful to think of super-intellectual Keynes as Maynarochka and impossible to resist Lopokova: "Last night while undressing somehow I upset the cup with the ink, so halph of my body is a study in white and black, it does not come off with water, I went into salt water (the ocean was glorious even with stiff neck), but still I think traces will be noticed for a good while."
A Shout in the Street: An Excursion into the Modern City , by Peter Jukes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). This unusual, but addictive book combines two genres: a "travel" essay about modern city life similar to Jonathan Raban's classic Soft City, and a commonplace book of quotations focusing on the experience of urban living. Jukes's reflections, derived from theorists like John Berger and Raymond Williams, as well as from writers such as Italo Calvino, focus largely on four cities -- London, New York, Paris and Leningrad -- but his citations range from around the world. Photographs and artwork of shops, street signs, and the like further break up the text, making this an ideal book for reading in bits and snatches while, what else, riding the subway or bus. Some quotations: "The street . . . the only valid field of experience" (Andre Breton); "The motor-car will help solve the congestion of traffic" (A.J. Balfour); "Of these cities will remain what passed through them, the wind!" (Bertolt Brecht).