Thank goodness for paperback publishers, without whom some wonderful books of yore could slip onto that track of fading memory that soon elides into oblivion. Here are some worthy titles recently given a shot at a longer shelf life.
Fiction The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, by Sloan Wilson (Four Walls Eight Windows, $13.95). If a title can promise a book immortality, this novel will never die. Say the words, and everyone thinks: stifling '50s conformity, smothering corporate culture and suffocating suburbia. Yes, they're all part of the dull fate that protagonists Tom and Betsy Rath are trying to escape, but the author always professed himself surprised that so many read his first novel so metaphorically. It was, he wrote in 1983, "a portrait of youth more than of any particular era." Still there's no getting past its period charms. As Jonathan Franzen writes in the introduction to this edition, reading it "is like taking a ride in a vintage Olds . . . familiar sights seem fresh when you see them through its little windows."
The Ice-Cream Headache and Other Stories, by James Jones (Akashic, $13.95). Out of print for more than 15 years, this is the only collection of short stories Jones ever published (in 1948, originally). Thirteen pieces spanning a decade, the earliest written when the author was 25, reflect his impecunious childhood in Depression-era Illinois and his parents' furious marriage (he "adored" his father and "absolutely hated" his mother, daughter Kaylie writes in her preface) as well as the wartime experiences immortalized in From Here to Eternity. The subject matter is grim, but there's still wit and humor here -- I mean, we've all had one of those headaches, haven't we? And I love the dedication: "This book is 'dicated' to my 7-year-old son, Jamie."
Casino Royale, Doctor No, and Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming (Penguin, $13 each). Where's 007 now that we really, really need him? Not today's wan, PC imitation, but the real man -- the one whose creation gave rise to the whole spy thriller craze. Happily, he's back with the old derring-do in some dazzling new reprints -- and I do mean dazzling. These editions are wrapped in eye-popping covers -- arty, colorful and racy as all getout. Just as delectable, though, is what lies between. Everybody remembers that "Shaken, not stirred" line, but here's the original recipe, delivered by Bond himself in his Casino Royale debut: "A dry martini. . . . In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordons, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's cold, then add a thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?" Think I'll try one tonight.
Nonfiction Ten Days That Shook the World, by John Reed (Tantallon, $14.95). There wouldn't have been a Bond if not for the momentous events in Moscow that American journalist Reed witnessed in October-November 1917. You may know the story from the Warren Beatty movie "Reds," but there's nothing like being on the ground with the author as he works the streets to get the sense of tension, fear and nervous excitement attendant at the birth of the Bolshevik Revolution. It all seems so very, very long ago now, ancient bloody history, and Reed's obvious enthusiasm for the Marxist-Leninist cause rings a somewhat sour, fatuous note, but at the new, pivotal moment in which we live, this is history worth reading. This edition includes historical background and new explanatory notes -- 21st-century readers will need them.
Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam, by Frank Snepp (Univ. Press of Kansas, $24.95). It's been more than a quarter-century since the withdrawal from Vietnam, and Americans still don't agree on whether fighting the war was right or wrong. But they probably can agree, thanks to this classic account of Washington's endgame in Southwest Asia, which won kudos all around when it first appeared in 1977, that the withdrawal -- which left thousands of our Vietnamese allies stranded and at the mercy of the Viet Cong -- was botched. The author was sued by the U.S. government after its publication, but as he notes in a new preface to this second edition, "no one has ever gone on record publicly to challenge its authenticity."
-- Zofia Smardz