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Invisible Men, by Donn Rogosin (Atheneum, $7.95), tells us how it was for the likes of Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, and Oscar Charleston in the thriving Negro baseball leagues back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s before Jackie Robinson integrated the game. The National Thief, by Robert Houston (Ballantine, $3.50), is not only a pleasurable fiction, but a political object lesson of the first order. The subject is William Walker, who in 1855 led 56 men in an attempt to take over Nicaragua -- and succeeded. Houston draws on historical fact.

Pushcart Prize IX: Best of the Small Presses, edited by Bill Henderson (Avon, $12.95), is the ninth installment of what is now a fixture of the literary landscape. Included is the work of well-known and not-so-well-known poets, fiction writers, and essayists.

American Fictions: 1940-1980, by Frederick R. Karl (Harper & Row/Colophon, $19.95), assesses all the big names, a few of the little ones, the political novel, women novelists, and the nonfiction novel. An imposing piece of criticism.

Machine Dreams, by Jayne Anne Phillips (Pocket Books, $3.95), is about Vietnam, World War II, growing up, small-town life, and love. A very good and very contemporary novel.

The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties, by William Wiser (G. K. Hall, $9.95), explodes with names: Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Picasso, Mir'o, Nancy Cunard, Josephine Baker, Ford Madox Ford, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Erik Satie, Virgil Thomson, Man Ray, Charles Lindbergh, Ezra Pound. Illustrated.

Hal Borland's Twelve Moons of the Year, by Hal Borland (G. K. Hall, $9.95). Between 1941 and 1978, Hal Borland wrote nature editorials for the New York Times. His delicate pieces are really essays in miniature.

Westward the Women, by Nancy Wilson Ross (North Point Press, $9.50), explores diaries and letters and employs the author's finely tuned historical sense, providing a picture of what women were like in the 19th-century American West.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera (Harper & Row/Colophon, $6.95), is richly imagined, full of ideas, politics, love. One of those rare novels that can be called great without fear of contradiction.

Pieces of Time: Bogdanovich on the Movies (Arbor House, $7.95). Peter Bogdanovich, director of such films as ``The Last Picture Show'' and ``What's Up, Doc?,'' writes about film very well, as this collection of 35-odd essays demonstrates.

Doris Ulmann, American Portraits, by David Featherstone (University of New Mexico Press, $29.95), holds 75 very nicely reproduced plates of Ulmann's stylistically romantic photographs of poor Appalachian folk in the 1920s and '30s. Strong essay.

The New York Times Guide to the Return of Halley's Comet (Times Books, $7.95) provides history, scientific data, and anecdotes about the comet due to enter Earth's orbit this coming November.

Overlord, by Max Hastings (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, $8.95), is a very thorough and readable account of D-Day, the battle at Normandy Beach, with some interesting new information. Many maps and illustrations of weapons.

Stalin's Men, by Roy Medvedev (Anchor, $8.95), contains biographies of six men central to Stalin's administration., some of whom are alive today. Engaging political biography.

The Killing Doll, by Ruth Rendell (Ballantine, $3.50), is a taut psychological thriller with an ending you aren't likely to guess.

The Tourist: Travel in Twentieth-Century North America, by John A. Jakle (University of Nebraska, $12.95), is a surprisingly interesting study of travel for pleasure. The author thinks it one of the main ways in which we gain our ``sense of identity.''

Miami Blues, by Charles Willeford (Ballantine, $3.50), features a despicable psychopath named Freddy Frenger, and action that makes TV's ``Miami Vice'' seem tame. In the spirit of Elmore Leonard; energetic and raw.

Cooking, by Henry Beard and Roy McKie (Workman, $5.95), defines ``gadget'' as ``any mechanical device that performs a kitchen task in one-twentieth [of] the time it takes to find it.'' This is a funny book, and for those who like to cook but aren't solemn about it.

The Neighborhood of Baseball, by Barry Gifford (Creative Arts, $7.95) is about family, baseball, and the author. The neighborhood is Wrigley Field. Not just for Cubs fans.

James Kaufmann reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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