Between soft covers

Never read a book that is not a year old. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson While reading it will not make the journey to high C any easier, Jerome Hines's Great Singers on Great Singing, (Limelight Editions, New York, $8.95) is still a fascinating book. Himself a well-known opera singer, Hines interviewed 40 opera stars for this book, among them Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Pl'acido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, and Sherrill Milnes. Competitions, voice development, career breaks -- almost everything relating to how these great singers became great appears in this worthy addition to any music library.

Alice Munro's short stories are rooted in place and family, and what exceptional stories they are! Her fourth volume of stories, The Moons of Jupiter (Penguin, New York, $4.95), includes 10 pieces of short fiction first printed in such places as The New Yorker and the Tamarack Review between 1977 and 1982. The lives and situations she describes may be ordinary, but the writing is far from it.

It may surprise you to learn that there is ``intense debate among scholars over the significance'' of Mark Twain's later works, according to Sara deSaussure Davis in her introduction to The Mythologizing of Mark Twain (The University of Alabama Press, University, Ala., $9.95). She and Philip D. Beidler have edited this volume, which contains eight essays by such well-known scholars as Henry Nash Smith and John C. Gerber, essays given primarily to assessing Twain's mythologizing of America, and vice versa. For scholars, this one.

Digital Deli (Workman Publishing, New York, $12.95) is a miscellany in the truest and best sense of the word. Assembled by the Lunch Group, a collection of New York computer writers, and edited by Steve Ditlea, the book contains numerous articles with calculated titles like ``The Merry Pranksters of Microcomputing,'' ``How Dangerous is Your Computer?,'' ``The Personal Computer as Therapist,'' and ``How to Survive Computer Camp.'' This book contains tons of information, yet it is presented in terms virtually anyone can understand . . . and enjoy.

Connoisseurs of short fiction know about Mary Morris, whose ``Vanishing Animals and Other Stories'' (1979) won the Rome Prize, but do they also know she has written a fine novel? Crossroads (Berkley, New York, $3.50) is the story of Deborah Mills, whose life dissolves into divorce and then commences a fitful reforming through a new romance. Vigorous and fresh writing about a familiar subject.

Those who watch a lot of movies on television can decide whether to watch, say, ``Deadfall'' instead of ``Deadline,'' or be reminded of the difference between ``Murder Is My Beat'' and ``Murder Is My Business,'' by quick consultation with Leonard Maltin's TV Movies 1985-1986 (Signet, New York, $4.95). Over 16,000 films are listed, each getting a paragraph in which length, director, stars, and quality are mentioned. With the proliferation of cable channels, this is an indispensable reference.

The star goalie of the Montreal Canadiens when they won numerous Stanley Cups in the 1970s, Ken Dryden, was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. While he was playing he also attended law school, but does not now practice. That Dryden is a thoughtful and humane man as well as a close student of the game of hockey is obvious from The Game (Penguin Books, New York, $5.95). His account of hockey transcends the sport yet never leaves it; an unusually fine sports book.

In 1983, the English Department at San Jose State University sponsored a competition encouraging ``entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.'' Called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest after that English novelist of less-than-compelling talent, this literary event produced much good-bad writing, the best (worst?) of which appears in It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (Penguin Books, New York, $4.95). Compiled by Scott Rice. Very funny.

Edward Weston is one of the century's best-known photographers, known for his intensely sharp-focused landscapes of the West, particularly California. A great deal has been written about Weston, and some of the best of that commentary appears in Edward Weston Omnibus (Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, $16.95). Among the contributors are Robinson Jeffers, Ansel Adams, Janet Malcolm, and Hilton Kramer. And comments Weston himself had to make about photography can be found in Edward Weston on Photography (Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, $14.95).

``Many of us believe that a newborn infant is little more than a blob of protoplasm, feeling very little, understanding less, reacting hardly at all to its surroundings. Yet the opposite is true,'' writes Arthur Janov at the start of Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience (Putnam/Wideview/Perigee, New York, $8.95). He then proceeds to explore the physical and psychological implications of the matter, and the result is a provocative but fascinating piece of work.

William Stott is a veteran of the teaching composition wars, and his contribution to peace on this front is Write to the Point (Doubleday/Anchor, New York, $7.95). Most of Stott's observations are sensible, some are provocative, and he ends by saying, ``Have a point to make and write to it. Dare to say what you want most to say, and say it as plainly as you can. Whether or not you write well, write bravely.''

It is now obvious that Mario Vargas Llosa belongs in the front rank of Latin American novelists, right up there with Marquez. His most recent novel, ``The War of the End of the World,'' has received great praise, and now in paperback is his Conversations in the Cathedral (Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, $11.95). This novel sprawls wonderfully, is sometimes experimental, defies easy description, and should be read.

James Kaufmann reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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