Gift books Beginning with such favorites as Hawthorne's ``Young Goodman Brown'' and Poe's ``Tell-Tale Heart,'' concluding with contemporary writers like Richard Ford, Alice Walker, and Jayne Anne Phillips, The Norton Book of American Short Stories, edited by Peter S. Prescott (Norton, 779 pages, $19.95), includes such classics as ``The Lottery,'' by Shirley Jackson, ``The Swimmer,'' by John Cheever, and ``The Outcasts of Poker Flat,'' by Bret Harte.
It is a balanced, thoughtful, and pleasing assemblage of famous and not so famous, old and new, comic and serious that shows something of the range of this peculiarly American genre.
Two fine biographies of American short story writers were also published this year. In Jean Stafford: A Biography (Little, Brown, 494 pages, illustrated, $24.95), David Roberts tells the sad, tempestuous tale of the brilliant writer for The New Yorker whose early promise was eclipsed by self-destructive behavior patterns.
Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, by Judy Oppenheimer (Putnam, 304 pages, illustrated, $19.95) is less critically judicious, but provides a highly absorbing account of the extraordinary woman - wife, mother, humorist, and ``queen of the macabre'' - who wrote ``The Lottery,'' ``Haunting of Hill House,'' and ``We Have always Lived in the Castle.''
British novelist A.N. Wilson has tackled the complex character of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy in a powerful, penetrating, and gracefully written biography: Tolstoy (Norton, 572 pages, illustrated, $25).
And there's a new book on the life of the Victorian novelist, Dickens: A Biography, by Fred Kaplan (Morrow, 607 pages, illustrated, $24.95), a solidly researched portrait written with a flair that conveys the biographer's enthusiasm for his subject.
Novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd offers us a black-and-white illustrated look at Dickens' London: An Imaginative Vision (David & Charles, North Pomfret, Vt., 192 pages, $24.95), which does an excellent job of relating pe-riod photographs to passages in Dickens's work.
And for Bront"e fans, The Landscape of the Bront"es, by Arthur Pollard, with photographs by Simon McBride (Dut-ton, 192 pages, $22.95), is an evocative and intelligent overview of this remarkable literary family and the world in which they lived.
Britain's Queen Victoria, once a public monument, was the subject of a path-breaking biography by a man who almost single-handedly transformed the art of biography from a respectful record of outward events to a critical, analytical search for underlying private truths. Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria, first published in 1921, holds up very well indeed.
This new edition, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Victoria's accession to the throne, introduced by Strachey's own biographer, Michael Holroyd, is handsomely produced and richly illustrated: a classic ``read'' and a coffeetable book all in one (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 208 pages, $22.95).
Michael Holroyd's current project is a massive, three-volume life of the elusive playwright, wit, and gadfly George Bernard Shaw. The first volume of Bernard Shaw, which Holroyd calls The Search for Love 1856-1898 (Random House, 486 pages, illustrated, $24.95), portrays a man whose search for love paradoxically took the form of inventing a coolly invulnerable self who did not seem to need or want it.
Whether or not the book's thesis is finally convincing, this richly detailed, entertaining, thought-provoking volume is a brilliant example of the art of the biographer.
Another book that is also more than it seems is At Home with the Presidents, by Bonne Blodgett and D.J. Tice (Over-look Press, 256 pages, illustrated, $29.95).
At first glance, it seems to be a well-illustrated architectural history of presidential homes from Mount Vernon and Monticello to Sagamore Hill, Hyde Park, Casa Pacifica, and the Reagan ranch. But it also provides interesting, detailed, often touching portraits of the home and family life of the presidents, plus some well-chosen material about their characters, politics, and business dealings.
Ford grew wealthy, Grant and Monroe faced bankruptcy. Theodore Roosevelt was attached to a home that expressed his identity, Hoover and Nixon were peripatetic. There are also insights into more obscure presidents.
We read of Garfield's ``years of darkness,'' the Fillmores' love of scholarship (they established the White House's first permanent library), and Tyler's effusive poems to his second - and much younger - wife: ``I excuse all bad poetry when I am the subject,'' she graciously remarked.
A delightful book, filled with history, politics, architecture, and gossip.
Gustav Klimt: Landscapes, with an essay by Johannes Dobai and a biography of Klimt, translated from the German by Ewald Osers ( Little, Brown, Boston/A New York Graphic Society Book, 144 pages, 54 plates, $50) presents a less known but no less striking side of the Viennese artist more famous for his brooding, erotic, decorative portraits of women.
The sun-drenched region of southern France that meant so much to artists like Van Gogh and C'ezanne is the subject of Dennis Stock's Provence Memories, 80 color photographs, introduced by Philip Conisbee (Little, Brown/A New York Graphic Society Book, $50).
In Italy: Seasons of Light, introduction by Susanna Agnelli (Little, Brown/A New York Graphic Society Book, 150 pages, 61 color illustrations, $60), German-born photographer Michael Ruetz brilliantly reveals a darker, more shadowed face of sunny Italy. Turning his back on the summertime land of the tourist season, Ruetz shows us a bleak, somber, mysterious Italy of winter light and mist, of crumbling cities poised on hilltops at nightfall, of the Piazza San Marco in the harsh light of early morning, in photographs that illuminate the special relationship between landscape and cityscape that makes Italy so visually exciting.
Divided Twins: Alaska and Siberia, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Antonia W. Bouis, photographs by Yevtushenko and Boyd Norton (a Viking Studio Book, 224 pages, $40) is not only a balanced blend of words and pictures, but is also bilingual in Russian and English. The text by the Russian poet Yevtushenko (a native of Siberia) includes poems amid the prose and emphasizes the underlying natural similarities of these two politically dissimilar areas. Yevtushenko also discusses man's treatment of wildlife. More than 200 color photos amplify the text and illustrate the sublime beauty of these northern reaches.
City life is the theme of Budapest, by Domokos Varga (the Overlook Press, Woodstock, N.Y., 136 pages, $27.50), which features 315 color photographs of the Hungarian capital composed of the two cities, Buda and Pest, on either side of the Danube. Photographs by various hands reveal a city of parks, castles, churches, museums, bridges, spas, and caf'es.
Architectural styles range from Turkish to Baroque to Art Nouveau. Accompanying the inviting pictures is a quirky but engaging text about the city's architecture, its unique geography, and its long and intriguing history.
King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea, by Kenneth Holum, Robert Hohlfelder, Robert Bull, and Avner Raban (Norton, 248 pages, $35), is a beautifully illustrated but nonetheless serious look at archaeological research at this famous site. Founded in the 1st century BC by Herod the Great of Judaea, Caesarea Maritima survived to bear influences of Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, and Crusader rule. The authors lucidly describe the history that fashioned Caesarea and the modern techniques (including underwater excavation) that have brought it back to light.
The City That Never Was, by Rebecca Read Shanor (Viking, 254 pages, $35), delineates two centuries of plans for the city of New York: schemes for mass transit, buildings, monuments, parks, streets, and bridges that were proposed but never put into practice. Some were grandiose, some silly. But many were bright ideas that actually foreshadowed later developments. The author has succeeded in transforming her own bright idea into a well-researched, nicely illustrated (black and white), fully realized book.
A handy reference book that also makes for fascinating browsing is The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie (Norton, 850 pages, $35 until Dec. 31; $40 thereafter). Some 10,000 entries cover musical instruments, terminology, performers, and composers, emphasizing classical but also including aspects of jazz, pop, and non-Western musical tradition.
The definitions are sophisticated, but they are clearly explained, making this a useful tool for amateurs and professionals.
For a truly unintimidating guide to classical recordings that is designed to be understood by absolute beginners, there is Discovering Great Music, by Roy Hemming (Newmarket Press, New York, 321 pages, $19.95).
Hemming's premise is that you don't have to know anything about music to enjoy listening to the classics. His book (an update of his 1974 guide, ``Discovering Music'') lists major composers and their best-known works and recommends specific recordings - LPs, tapes, and CDs - to get a collection started.
For folk music fans, there's a biography of Lee Hays: singer, composer, poet, union organizer, and member of the legendary Weavers (Hays, Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert). Lonesome Traveler: The Life of Lee Hays, by Doris Willens (Norton, 281 pages, illustrated, $17.95) is a sympathetic, but by no means uncritical, life of the talented, kindly, cantankerous Arkansas-born bass whose songwriting credits include ``Lonesome Traveler'' and ``If I had a Hammer'' (with Pete Seeger).
And for Beatlemaniacs who've had their fill of biographical revelations about the Fab Four, here's a book that focuses purely on their music - ``album by album, song by song,'' as promised on the dust jacket.
Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary, by Tim Riley (Knopf, 424 pages, $19.95), eschews fanciful modes of interpretation in favor of sticking close to the words and the music, as the author, himself a composer and pianist, sets out to tell us why particular Beatle songs have such a special resonance.
Trains, boats, and planes
Flying the North Atlantic, by Jim Barry (David & Charles, North Pomfret, Vt., 144 pages, $29.95), is a photographic history that takes us from the early attempts by airship, which took about three days to cross the North Atlantic, to the speed of the Concorde, which reduces the trip to about three hours. The copious photographs (black and white) and accompanying text not only illustrate the development of various forms of aircraft, from airships and flying boats to prop planes, jets, wide-bodies, and supersonics, but also record the history of flight routes and airports.
A look at today's rail system for passenger and freight can be found in An American Journey by Rail, photographs by Dudley Witney, text by Timothy Jacobson (Norton, 200 pages, $29.95 until Dec. 31; $35 thereafter). While images of the present predominate, this book also shows and tells something of the history, development, and magnificence of the systems that helped cross a continent and build a country.
For sheer sumptuousness, few modes of transport have ever rivaled the great ocean liners. Each year, there seems to be a spate of books trying to recapture a sense of their vanished splendor. Grand Luxe: The Transatlantic Style, by John Malcolm Brinnin and Kenneth Gaulin (Henry Holt, 232 pages, $85), is a large, opulent book beautifully illustrated with softly colored drawings and photographs which, together with a somewhat eccentric text, suggest the particular flavor and ``personality'' of special vessels from the first big German floating hotels to the elegant Normandie. Fifty Famous Liners 3, by Frank O. Braynard and William H. Miller (Norton, 233 pages, illustrated. $29.95), is - as the title indi-cates - third in an ongoing series of reference books dedicated to profiling the history, specifications, and salient features of notable ocean liners.
And for purists who believe the only true ships are those driven by wind, Kenneth Giggal's Classic Sailing Ships, with paintings by Dutch artist Cornelis de Vries (Norton, 128 pages, $35), provides a stunning gallery of legendary sailing ships - warships, explorer and navigator ships, and trading ships from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, and the United States, ships like Drake's Golden Hind, the notorious HMS Bounty, Cutty Sark, Thermopylae, USS Constitution, and many more. Each painting, painstakingly detailed, is accompanied by a fascinating text, and the book also includes a glossary of sailing terms, an index, and a short history of sailing and sailors.