Stylish essays by McPhee

Table of Contents, by John McPhee. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc. 293 pp. $15.95. When John McPhee is between book-length works of nonfiction like, say, ``Coming Into the Country,'' ``Oranges,'' or, most recently, ``La Place de la Concorde Suisse,'' he will collect stray pieces of literary journalism for inclusion in a book like ``Table of Contents.''

The eight articles in this most recent of Mr. McPhee's 18 books were written between 1981 and 1984, and they range over such unfamiliar terrain as: telephone service in Alaska, country doctors in Maine, hydroelectric power on a small scale in New York State, and bears in New Jersey.

These pieces demonstrate once again the many reasons for reading McPhee. He has a talent for unearthing arcane subject matter. He is an extraordinary stylist. His work is the standard by which most literary nonfiction is judged these days.

Perhaps the most peculiar part of this fine collection is the last essay, ``North of the C. P. Line.'' There, McPhee writes of another John McPhee, a game warden in northern Maine, and ends: ``Time and time again, when I think of him . . . I invariably find myself wishing that I were John McPhee.''

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