NONFICTION

Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History , edited by Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, W. Paul Coates and Thomas C. Battle (Howard University Press, $29.95). Many of the books about black America and Africa that can now be found in university special collections and the Library of Congress came from the personal collections of black bibliophiles. This book, which includes a number of papers originally presented at a 1983 symposium on black book collectors, documents the work of such men as Arthur Schomburg, the collector whose work forms the nucleus of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, and Jesse E. Moorland, who gave his collection of books to Howard University, and for whom the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard is named. There are also less well-known collectors, such as Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a Philadelphia janitor who began to collect newspaper clippings in 1856 and had compiled 100 scrapbooks by 1882.

Black Diamonds: Life in the Negro Leagues From the Men Who Lived It , by John B. Holway (Meckler Books, $32.50). This is the latest book from John Holway, who has devoted much of his career as a writer to rescuing from oblivion the heroes of baseball's segregated Negro Leagues. Here, Holway, author of Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues and Blackball Stars, presents the first-person stories of 11 former Negro League players. Among them are Chet Brewer and John "Buck" O'Neil. These are men who played out their entire careers knowing they were as good as many major leaguers, but that -- except for occasional barnstorming games -- they would never get the chance to prove it. Yet there is little bitterness. "Born too soon?" says O'Neil. "Forget it. . . . I had a beautiful life. I played with the greatest ball players in the world, and I played against the best ball players in the world."

Tao Te Ching , by Lao Tzu; translated by Victor H. Mair (Bantam, $19.95). There are apparently dozens of translations of this classic text of Taoism, including a well-received version by Stephen Mitchell. This new edition, however, makes use of the recently discovered Ma-Wang-Tui manuscripts, by far the earliest examples of these enigmatic psalms and sayings. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, adds a rich commentary and useful annotations to these simple, yet elusive texts, enabling a Western reader to understand more fully their spiritual and historical dimensions. Some of the advice, though, is surprisingly modern: "Undertake difficult tasks/ by approaching what is easy in them;/ Do great deeds/ by focusing on their minute aspects."

Authors' Lives: On Literary Biography and the Arts of Language , by Park Honan (St. Martin's, 17.95). Best-known for his biographies of Matthew Arnold and Jane Austen, Park Honan proves in this collection that his range is wide, his taste catholic. Here are essays on classic authors (Richardson and Trollope), canonical moderns (Kerouac and Ginsberg), and even a lowbrow (Lord Bulwer Lytton, the author of The Last Days of Pompeii). Bulwer, it may be remembered, is the inspiration of an annual contest for bad prose. In fact, Honan contends, "he could write superbly well." Anyone who has ever chuckled over the formulaic triteness of milord's notorious opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night," will want to read Honan's revisionist piece.