The Complete Romances of Chretien de Troyes , translated by David Staines (Indiana University Press, $57.50). This hefty volume collects and translates the five Arthurian tales that are among the highlights of medieval French literature. Staines' introduction reviews the development of the legends of Camelot and shows how Chretien's romances made their especial contribution. These are, above all, stories of courtly love and of knights tested in their devotion to chivalric ideals (with passion and duty often at odds); but they are also thrilling wonder stories of giants, wild men, tame lions, razor-sharp bridges and visits to the Other World. Included are a version of the Grail legend, a tale of Yvain, and the marvelous "Knight of the Cart," where the crucial test comes right at the beginning: On a quest to rescue Queen Guinevere, Lancelot encounters a wicked-looking dwarf who says he will help him only if the knight consents to ride in his cart. Carts often being used as pillories, Lancelot hesitates for just a moment -- with dire consequences.

American Datelines , by Ed Cray, Jonathan Kotler, and Miles Beller (Facts on File, $24.95). This is a running collection of important American news stories as they originally appeared in contemporary newspapers. For example, to commemorate the killing of one of the most famous American bandits in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1882, the editors pulled a story from the files of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "A DASTARD'S DEED," reads the headline, with the subhead striking an even more lurid note: "Cold-Blooded Treachery At Last Conquers Jesse James." Also included are Merriman Smith's Pulitzer-winning UPI coverage of President Kennedy's assassination, Louella Parsons's mawk-raking coverage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio's wedding, the New York Times's firsthand account of Lindbergh's landing in Paris, and two examples of this newspaper's Watergate reporting.

Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Postwar America , by Neil Jumonville (University of California Press, $24.95). This history evokes the era in which a relatively small band of humanists living in New York City dominated American intellectual life. Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe, Dwight Macdonald, Irving Kristol, Mary McCarthy, Harold Rosenberg, Philip Rahv and a number of other critics, historians, and journalists waged their war against mass culture in such magazines as Partisan Review, Dissent, Commentary and Encounter, many of which they had founded. Even after rejecting Marxism, the author argues, these thinkers perpetuated one of its characteristic stances, "an intellectual generalism that discouraged distinctions between literature and politics, or art and social policy."

Of Kinkajous, Capybaras, Horned Beetles, Seladangs, And the Oddest and Most Wonderful Mammals, Insects, Birds, and Plants of Our World,

by Jeanne K. Hanson and Deane Morrison (HarperCollins, $18.95). Here is a series of short takes on odd beasties by a pair of science writers. One entry covers the key horror-movie question, "How Dangerous Are Vampire Bats?" The unghoulish truth is that to humans "Vampire bites may sound horrifying, but they are not dangerous in themselves. The real peril is from diseases such as tetanus or rabies that the bats may carry." Variations on this theme crop up elsewhere in the book -- e.g., whether piranhas, army ants and black widow spiders can really kill people. On a more mundane level, the authors also provide the simplest foolproof method for destroying the various book-eating insects: "Put the books in the deep-freeze (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) for about three days."