Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad, by Howard Norman (Penguin, $7.95). These haunting stories by a Washington-area writer are set, for the most part, in northerly climes: New England near the Canadian border and Canada itself. The characters tend to be eccentric, and there is pathos in their oddities: An Eskimo woman reveres a jukebox at the local train station in the belief that it houses her son; a former Hollywood bit player insists on screening the B movie in which she looked her youthful best, at a deserted drive-in in the middle of winter; a railroad engineer pinned in the wreckage of his train obsesses over its cargo of spilt milk.
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage, $9.95). An English butler on the first holiday of his long career narrates this story and in so doing comes to grips with the almost clerical sacrifices he has made in order to serve his masters impeccably. This winner of Great Britain's prestigious Booker Prize depends on tone -- the cautious, austere, quietly fluid style of someone adept at self-effacement and propriety. For being dammed up so long, the revelations to which the butler's musings lead him gain an intensity that is almost tragic.
The Storyteller, by Mario Vargas Llosa (Penguin, $8.95). This novel by the great Peruvian writer (and quondam political candidate) is a going-native story. The narrator comes to believe that one of his old school friends has become the storyteller for a primitive Amazonian tribe, obliged to bear the heavy burden of passing down the annals of the Machiguenga. As the narrator, a talk-show host, tries to analyze the marked differences between his own orthodox career and the path his friend has apparently taken, a profound act of the imagination carries him to the jungle and the heart of the Machiguengan mythos.
Animation from Script to Screen, by Shamus Culhane (St. Martin's, $12.95). This is a how-to book by the man who animated the seven dwarfs in Walt Disney's "Snow White." Animators, he explains, work at drafting tables lit from below, allowing the artist to see several translucent sheets at a time. That way, they can carry the logic of action already drawn forward into what must come next. Culhane also tries to account for that elusive quality, creativity. In need of inspiration, he lets himself daydream and then indulges in a burst of drawing that he can later expand on. He admits, however, that none of his students has adopted his technique: people, he writes, "have an aversion to getting into what seems to be a mild trance."
Auschwitz and the Allies, by Martin Gilbert (Henry Holt, $11.95). This is the story of how the Allies learned of the Nazi death camps and how they responded. In fact, that response was useless, due to a lack of comprehension and imagination in the face of the unbelievable. The principal death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, remained a secret until June 1944, by which time most of Europe's Jews had already perished. Gilbert concludes that in the war against the Jews the Nazis achieved their greatest success, both in the killings and in the "series of bizarre deceptions" that allowed the killing to continue.
The Fall of the Roman Empire, by Michael Grant (Collier, $12.95). It takes nerve to echo most of Gibbon's title, but Michael Grant's authorship of numerous books on classical Greece and Rome qualifies him as a modest successor to the great 18th-century historian. This volume covers the empire's final hundred years, in which Grant identifies 13 factors as contributing to its demise, and incorporates an intriguingly titled appendix: "Why Did the Eastern and Not the Western Empire Survive?"
The Antagonists: Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter and Civil Liberties in Modern America, by James F. Simon (Touchstone, $10.95). Few Supreme Court justices have had more influence on the shape of the law than Hugo Black; few were expected to have more influence than Felix Frankfurter. James Simon's dramatic foray into intellectual history explains how the former, a trial lawyer of humble origins in Alabama and later a U.S. senator, bested the latter, the brilliant darling of the Eastern legal establishment, when they were vying for leadership of the Court in the 1940s. Simon's sympathies clearly lie with Black, who insisted on an expansively American reading of the Bill of Rights, rather than Frankfurter, who habitually resorted to Anglo-Saxon principles for help in deciding constitutional issues.