Between soft covers

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Never read a book that is not a year old. WS Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Cleavers - Ward, June, Wally, and the Beaver - were on TV every week from 1957 to 1963 in ''Leave It to Beaver.'' What amounts to a (loving) history/anthology of Beaver's wit and wisdom is created by Irwin Applebaum in The World According to Beaver (New York: Bantam, $7.95). There have been a number of TV nostalgia books lately, but this one, by ''an unashamed child of the TV generation,'' is among the best. It even has an introduction by Jerry Mathers!

Robert Brustein, one of our best drama critics, was for 13 years dean of the Yale School of Drama and, for part of that time, director of the Yale Repertory Theater. He talks in detail of those years - years in which his students included the likes of Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Talia Shire, and Henry Winkler - in his book Making Scenes (New York: Limelight Editions, $9.95).

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Two of today's best and best-known private eyes are back into paper. Stephen Greenleaf's Marsh Tanner returns to his hometown in Iowa and finds trouble in Fatal Obsession (New York: Ballantine, $2.50), while Robert B. Parker's Spenser helps a troubled senator and senator's wife in his eleventh case, The Widening Gyre (New York: Dell, $2.95).

Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man and the Reinhart trilogy, is one of the funniest writers we have, and, also, an extraordinary prose stylist. The Feud (New York: Delta Book/Seymour Lawrence, $7.95) is the hilarious story of a small-town incident exploding into a family feud. A black comedy with fine period detail.

Alfred Stieglitz is one of the great figures in American culture, the man most responsible for introducing modern art to America through his ''291'' Gallery. Stieglitz: A Memoir/Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14. 95) is a very evenhanded look at the famous photographer's life by a grandniece, Sue Davidson Lowe. Some interesting talk of Georgia O'Keeffe, numerous illustrations.

In Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange created one of the most memorable photographs of our time, but she did much more in her long and productive life as a photographer. Her career is chronicled in Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (New York: Aperture, Millerton, $25), which contains a very nice essay on Lange by Robert Coles. Chronology, typical Aperture quality.

Andrew Lytle is not nearly so well known as he should be, so it's good to see some of his work back in print in Alchemy and Others (Sewanee, Tenn.: University of the South, $7.95). This volume contains four stories and a novella, all originally published between 1935 and 1945, and all distinctly Southern in feeling and style.

When it first appeared in 1948, Ross Lockridge Jr.'s Raintree County (New York: Arbor House, $12.95) was a great success, but two months after publication , Lockridge died by his own hand. He was 33. Now we have this enormous (over 1, 000-page) novel - think of it as something like ''Ulysses'' on the American plan - to examine again. Introduction by Faulkner specialist Joseph Blotner.

Cynthia Ozick is an acclaimed writer of fiction, but she can handle nonfiction as well, the evidence of which is Art & Ardor (New York: Obelisk/Dutton, $8.95). Subjects in this essay collection include Jewishness, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, John Updike, Isaac Bashevis Singer, feminism, and Henry James. Contemporary belles-lettres at their most thoughtful.

Perhaps the best historian of Colonial America is John Putnam Demos, who, in 1983, won the Bancroft Prize - awarded by the American Historical Association to the year's best work of history - for Entertaining Satan (New York: Oxford University Press, $9.95). Subtitled accurately ''Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England,'' Demos's book is interdisciplinary writing at its best, thick description of an always intriguing period in our history.

Anthony West, illegitimate son of Rebecca West and H. G. Wells, has just recently published a biography of his father. Reissued along with that book is Heritage (New York: Washington Square Press, $4.95), what amounts to a roman a clef about the world his parents inhabited. Long out of print, this is a must for fans of West or Wells.

''We are all, in a sense, experts on secrecy. From earliest childhood we feel its mystery and attraction. We know both the power it confers and the burden it imposes. . . . We know the feel of secrecy . . . ,'' says Sissela Bok at the start of Secrets (New York: Vintage, $5.95). But she is much more the expert in the complicated ethical arena where secrets perform, and in this book she shares her knowledge in fascinating if difficult detail.

Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles to numerous pennants and World Series by way of demonstrating his talents as a student of the summer game. In Weaver on Strategy (New York: Collier Books, $6.95), he provides, with help from Terry Pluto, one of the best of many guides for the easy-chair manager.

Norman Mailer is one of the major writing talents of our time, and his much promoted Ancient Evenings (New York: Warner, $4.95) is now out in thick paper. Not his best effort.

''These letters reveal what Proust was later to call 'the fundamental notes' of a personality, on which the subsequent music of a human sensibility is based, '' says J.M. Cocking in his introduction to Marcel Proust: Selected Letters, 1880-1903 (New York: Anchor Press, $9.95). Translated by Ralph Mannheim, and the text established, dated, and annotated by Philip Kolb, these letters show the pre-''Remembrance of Things Past'' author.

The Omni Interviews (New York: Omen Press/Ticknor & Fields, $9.95), assembled by Pamela Weintraub, includes conversations with such scientists as Hans Bethe and Francis Crick. This fine collection does not demand graduate school expertise from readers.

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