A Reader's Delight, by Noel Perrin. Hanover, N.H. and London: University Press of New England/Dartmouth Book. 208 pp. $9.95. This collection of 40 brief, unpretentious essays by the author of ``First Person Rural'' takes us off the beaten tracks of well-loved classics and widely hyped best sellers for a guided tour of not-quite-buried treasures. Perrin's taste is wholesomely eclectic: two poems (one modern, one 17th century) and 38 books, including fantasies, fables, essays, historical fiction, science fiction, romance, realism, war novels, memoirs, essays, humor, and histories. There's William Dean Howells's ``Indian Summer,'' Rose Macaulay's ``A Casual Commentary,'' Charles Williams's ``All Hallows Eve,'' Stendhal's ``On Love,'' Freya Stark's ``Valley of the Assassins,'' and ``Essays in Idleness'' by the 14th-century Japanese poet-priest Kenko. Perrin dishes out plot summaries, choice samples of authorial styles, and biographical anecdotes, which, coupled with his enthusiasm, make you itch to get your hands on these little-known gems. An epilogue lists titles, indicates which are still available, and suggests ways of finding those that are out of print. Victorian Values, by James Walvin. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press. 171 pp. Illustrated. $9.95 (simultaneous cloth edition: $20).
The inspiration for this book was its author's desire to respond to the version of Victorian values purveyed by Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Long sneered at by generations who considered themselves ``modern,'' Victorian values began making a comeback of sorts when Britons disillusioned by the permissive society, the welfare state, and their nation's slipping prestige looked back longingly on the ``good old days'' of hard work, piety, patriotism, and prosperity. But, as Walvin demonstrates, Victorian times were far more complicated, and Victorian values led to precisely the kind of social reforms that Thatcherites deride. Walvin admits he's not the first historian to draw attention to the realities of Victorian life. But this highly readable account of Victorian efforts to deal with such problems as crime, illiteracy, poverty, and water pollution should appeal to a wide readership. It is a companion to a cable television series of the same title. The Lyrics of No"el Coward. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press/Tusk Book. 418 pp. $10.95.
``There is no time I can remember when I was not fascinated by words `going together.''' No"el Coward's rhyming finesse rivals Cole Porter's. Indeed, with Porter's permission, Coward wrote his own lyrics to Porter's classic ``Let's Do It,'' which included such priceless lines as ``Our leading writers in swarms do it,/ Somerset and all the Maughams do it,/ Let's do it, let's fall in love,'' and concluding with the observation that ``Old mountain goats in ravines do it,/ Probably we'll live to see machines do it.'' Of course there's ``Mad Dogs and Englishmen,'' ``Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans,'' and at least a couple of hundred more: romantic, satiric, sophisticated, wistful, broadly humorous, brittle, but seldom merely cynical. This collection, assembled by Coward in 1965, groups the lyrics by decades with a brief note by their author introducing each section. Although Coward is too urbane to dwell on anything like ``recurrent themes,'' they do emerge, as his satire takes affectionate aim at such targets as Regency rakes, 1890s aesthetes, 1920s flappers, stage-door mothers, and the Wrong People who simply insist on traveling when the Right People stay back home. Rome: The Biography of a City, by Christopher Hibbert. New York: Penguin Books. 387 pp. Illustrated. $14.95.
A history book, a guidebook, a story of art, politics, religion, scandal, power, corruption, and achievement, Christopher Hibbert's ``Rome'' is an exceptionally pleasant way to become acquainted with some three millennia of the Eternal City's palimpsest of histories. Rich with anecdotes, illustrations, and vivid description, it also provides the reader with a good grasp of the underlying currents of historical events. In some ways, wandering through these pages is even better than wandering the streets of Rome, and certainly less tiring. The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, by Edward Lucie-Smith. New York: Thames and Hudson, dist. by Norton. 208 pp. Illustrated $9.95.
The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists. Consulting editor: Herbert Read. Revised edition: Nikos Stangos. New York: Thames & Hudson, dist. by Norton. 352 pp. Illustrated. $9.95.
Practically everything you've ever wanted to know about art terms or artists can be found in this pair of copiously illustrated reference books. From the names of artistic movements - however evanescent - and the lives and times of artists - both famous and less known - to the technical terms of painting, sculpture, architecture, furniture, and ceramics, these authoritative, easy-to-consult volumes ensure that never again will you draw a blank when confronted by a recherch'e art phrase. Both books make for fascinating browsing. And there's something to be said for the unexpected contrasts that occur in the format of the illustrated dictionary, juxtaposing on a single page such discordant yet illuminating images as an 18th-century Atlas supporting the earth and an ``autodestructive'' sculpture of the 1960s, or a homespun Shaker chair and the ornate shikkara of an Indian temple, or Lichtenstein's cartoon work and a page from the Lindisfarne Gospels.