Between soft covers

Never read a book that is not a year old. - Ralph Waldo Emerson If you read small magazines and literary quarterlies, chances are you have seen short fiction stylistically similar to that which appears in Raymond Carver's Cathedral (Vintage, New York, $4.95).

Carver, of course, is the master, the most celebrated of today's short-story writers, and the dozen examples in this collection show him at the top of his form. The people are ordinary, their situations familiar, their conversations uninspired, yet he limns their difficult lives with unsurpassed precision. A major talent of our time, Carver is the cartographer of standard lives.

There's been a lot of turmoil in the last year or two about guarantees given top players in professional tennis. The book that ignited the issue, Michael Mewshaw's Short Circuit (Penguin, New York, $6.95), is now in paper. Mewshaw spent six months following the tennis tour across Europe, ending with Wimbledon and the US Open, and he talked with people connected with virtually all aspects of the business, er, game. A good piece of investigative sports journalism, although Mewshaw rides the guarantee issue too hard.

''A translation is no translation,'' said J. M. Synge, ''unless it gives you the music of a poem along with the words of it.'' And there is music in Robert Fitzgerald's exceptional translation of Virgil's The Aeneid (Vintage, New York, Fitzgerald, the pleasures of the text are heightened.

Few architects have exerted as strong a pull on their field as Frank Lloyd Wright, who saw houses as organic wholes and designed accordingly. His work - from chairs to landscape design, from lamps to fireplace walls and, of course, houses - is the subject of H. Allen Brooks's Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School (George Braziller, New York, $11.95). There are 91 plates in all, some in color, and this book includes the work of the disciples as well as the master.

The word ''review'' is both verb and noun. In the latter capacity, it might be ''a formal military inspection,'' or ''evaluative and critical discourse,'' the synonyms for which are listed in Roget's II: The New Thesaurus (Berkley Books, New York, $2.95), as ''commentary, comment, criticism, critique, notice.'' The organization here is different from that of a traditional thesaurus, and it may take some getting used to: It's sort of a hybrid of dictionary and thesaurus.

The Orlando Trilogy (Penguin, $7.95) consists of three novels about the decidedly Oedipal life of Orlando King by Isabel Colgate, whose most recent book is ''The Shooting Party.'' Raised on an island by an eccentric English don, King rises in the London business world of the 1930s and '40s, then takes a great fall. ''Orlando King'' was originally published in 1968, ''Orlando at the Brazen Threshold'' in 1971, and ''Agatha'' in 1973, and they reveal Colgate as a sometimes epigrammatic and sometimes filmic writer: Her prose requires close attention, but it's also quite good.

James Gould Cozzens' literary reputation is at ebb tide now, and Matthew J. Bruccoli would like to see that change. His biography, James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, $9.95), is necessarily drawn from Cozzens' own writings, both in novels like ''Guard of Honor'' and ''By Love Possessed,'' and in diaries, notebooks, and letters. Cozzens was exceptionally reclusive and widely considered a crank, but this book shows a writer totally committed to writing whose work does, in fact, deserve reinspection.

The football season is a good time to read Violent Sundays (Simon & Schuster, New York, $8.95), Bob Chandler's account (as told to Norm Chandler Fox) of his career with the Buffalo Bills and, later, the Oakland Raiders. Much more honest than most books of its kind, and it avoids the sensational.

''The price was high ... there was one little drop of something ... in every story, it was the extra I had,'' said F. Scott Fitzgerald of his short fiction. The best of that ''extra'' has been selected and introduced by Malcolm Cowley in The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, $6.95). The 28 stories commence with ''Berenice Bobs Her Hair'' and conclude with ''The Lost Decade''; they - and what comes between - remind us of Fitzgerald's large talent.

Two of America's most popular columnists have collections of recent work out in paper. Art Buchwald's While Reagan Slept (Fawcett Crest, New York, $3.95) shows the witty political satirist in good form, while Erma Bombeck's Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (Dell Books, New York, $3.95) is another example of fine, domestically originated humor. As with the work of all good humorists, there is much truth here.

Frida Kahlo was the wife of the well-known Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and what Hayden Herrera's Frida (Harper & Row, New York, $12.45), a biography of Kahlo, makes clear is that she was a fascinating personality and artist in her own right. Self-dramatizing, talented, and with a fast-lane social life, Kahlo produced surrealist work that has been finding a larger audience. This fine biography explains the hows and whys and whats of Kahlo's life, and it does so with style.

John James Audubon trekked all over this continent in the early 1800s observing wildlife and, in the 1820s, executing the bird paintings for which he is famous. He also kept a journal. Over a century and a half later, Mary Durant and Michael Harwood decided to retrace as many of Audubon's steps as they could, and the result was the fascinating On the Road With John James Audubon (Dodd, Mead, New York, $14.95). Three voices - Durant's, Harwood's, and Audubon's - weave together to form the text of this volume: numerous black-and-white illustrations - not at all Blue Highways.

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