by Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley stands out in a crowd, even in that ideological bouillabaisse the Senate. Rhodes scholar, hoop star, political point guard: He is as at ease quoting Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad and T.S. Eliot as he is gaveling a committee into session. His new memoir mirrors this blend of scholarly smarts and Beltway brawn as he tackles tough issues without a flinch: public values ("Few are willing to give up anything for the sake of a better tomorrow"), the Presidency (It's like "living in a luxurious prison") and the media ("Never get into an argument with someone who has a barrel of newsprint or a truck full of Mini-cams"). Bradley in print is like Bradley on the hardwood: no finger rolls or reverse stuffs, just solid jumpers from the key.

And he manages to hit many of them—without an assist from a sound bite. When the Democratic senator from New Jersey isn't enlarging our frame of reference for America's virtues and vices with History 101 or defending Democrats from Republican low blows, he relates some of his campaign pratfalls and llth-hour course corrections: a disastrous 1978 fund-raising luncheon that didn't bring in enough money to pay for the food; the near-loss of his senatorial seat to Christine Todd Whitman in 1990, which prompted him to speak more from the gut than the Gallups; and the fortuitous decision not to pursue the Presidency in 1992 just before learning that his wife, Ernestine, had breast cancer (now in remission).

In the end, though, Time Present, Time Past can't answer what we really want to know: Time Future. Bradley, a politician as well as a forward thinker, exits the Senate in 1996 and leaves the door open for—well, you know—in the new millennium. (Knopf, $25)

by Jamaica Kincaid

Xuela Claudette Richardson, the narrator of Kincaid's new novel, is a fearless woman of 70 years whose strong, sure, feminist voice pulls us into the tale of her tumultuous life on the West Indian island of Dominica. Abandoned by her mother (who dies at her birth), Xuela feels forever alone, confronting her fate with cold deliberateness. She is consumed by her ancestry and the colonial history that has scarred her country. Her father, a red-haired Scottish-African, abuses his position as a government official to enrich himself. Her mother, a Carib, was born on Dominica, which had been overrun by European conquerors.

Raised by a cruel stepmother, among jealous siblings, Xuela grows up locked in bitterness. Seducing other women's men, refusing to bear children, she cares nothing for emotional life. "Romance is the refuge of the defeated," she says. "I would not allow the passage of time or the full weight of desire to make a pawn out of me." And unlike her country and her people, Xuela manages to achieve a fierce self-reliance built from unrelenting loss.

The Autobiography of My Mother reads throughout like a tale of biblical solemnity. Sharp-edged yet moving, it is a disturbing look back into a shattered past through the eyes of a mystical and unrepentant narrator. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $20)

by Anonymous

What makes this novelized tale of Bill Clinton's bumpy 1992 run for the White House the hottest—and most unusual—whodunit of the season? Not the rollicking, roller-coaster plot nor the wicked skewerings of various thinly disguised big shots but the bedeviling mystery of whodunwroteit.

Harold Evans, the publishing executive who reportedly okayed a six-figure advance for the book, claims that even he doesn't know the identity of its author. Suspects include White House adviser George Stephanopoulos, who was awed by the book's uncanny accuracy; political strategist James Carville, who swears it ain't him; Mandy Grunwald, a Clinton camp vet who has been conspicuously silent; and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Frank, who shares an agent with Anonymous.

The hybrid story reads something like a cross between the late Theodore H. White's detailed accounts of presidential contests and novelist Tom Robbins's harebrained flights of fantasy. Henry Burton, the story's hero, is a brilliant (though fatally moral) young strategist hired to manage southern Gov. Jack Stanton's presidential candidacy. En route, Burton guides his boss through a slalom of challenges—among them a . powerful New York governor known as Oscillating Orlando Ozio because he can't decide whether or not to run (Mario Cuomo, anyone?) and Cashmere McLeod, a hairdresser who claims to have made some illicit whoopee with Stanton (a la Gennifer Flowers).

The dialogue is generally crude, rude and raucous—much like the patter of real pols in the heat of electoral battle. But though the story will be a hoot for fans of inside political baseball, the plot implodes (especially near the end) whenever Anonymous strays too far from fictionalized fact and tests his/her unpolished powers of literary invention. (Random House, $24)

by Dava Sobel

Legend has it that ancient mariners lived in terror of sea monsters and other perils of their own imaginings. A more legitimate fear was the knowledge that, once out of sight of land, they had no way of knowing precisely where they were. With the sun and stars as guides, skilled navigators could determine their position north or south of the equator, but locating themselves east and west—calculating the longitude—was largely a matter of guesswork. In 1714, Britain's Parliament offered a cash award to anyone who could solve the problem.

This is an absorbing account of both the formidable technical obstacles involved and the brilliant exertions of clockmaker John Harrison, whose marine chronometer won him the prize. In an elegant, highly readable overview of a daunting conundrum, Sobel, a former science reporter for The New York Times, reveals not only the mechanical-difficulties Harrison had to overcome in devising a clock far more accurate than any the world had ever known but also the hazards thrown in his way by England's royal astronomer, who, not surprisingly, favored a heavenly solution to the longitude problem. (Walker, $19)

edited by Otto Penzler

Mystery buffs couldn't ask for a sweeter Valentine's treat than these murder-minded love stories, commissioned for this collection from the créme de la crime: Elmore Leonard (contributing his first short fiction in more than 30 years), Mary (and her daughter Carol) Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Joyce Carol Oates, Bobbie Ann Mason, Sara Paretsky, Anne Perry, William J. Caunitz and seven others. Tempting as a heart-shaped sampler of Belgian chocolates, they're rich, sinful and spiked with surprises.

The 16 tidbits here, deftly introduced by Edgar Award-winning crime connoisseur Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press, offer twisty tales of romance gone awry. Despite their brevity, the best offerings in this anthology pack as much plot, character and pungent atmosphere as many novels. For instance, "Red Clay," by novelist and Emmy-winning One Life to Live writer Michael Ma-lone, about a movie star and accused murderess, takes its film-noir story across two continents and as many decades.

James Crumley, legendary among mysterians for his hard-boiled P.I. novel The Last Good Kiss, serves up equally memorable action in his love-on-the-lam tale "Hot Springs." And the heroine of Leonard's "Karen Makes Out," a feisty federal marshal who finds herself falling for a guy whose next landlord might be the State of Florida, demands, at the very least, an encore. Same time, next year? (Delacorte, $19.95)

by David Baldacci

Page-Turner of the Week

LUTHER WHITNEY HAD BEEN CAUGHT before and served long stretches in jail, but this time he has done his homework. The 66-year-old burglar easily breaks into the mansion of a Virginia billionaire and locates the vault behind a full-length mirror in the master bedroom. Luther is in there when he suddenly hears voices downstairs and draws the vault door shut. When the bedroom lights flick on, Luther discovers, to his amazement, that the door is a one-way mirror allowing an unobstructed view of the boudoir.

What Luther sees through the glass darkly—a grisly murder—sets the machinery of this first-rate thriller in gear. Everyone in Washington, it seems, is drawn into the cover up, from Luther's crusading daughter and her ex-public defender-boyfriend to the President himself. In his debut, lawyer-turned-novelist Baldacci cuts everyone's grass—Grisham's, Ludlum's, even Patricia Cornwall's—and more than gets away with it. (Warner $22.95)

>Bill Bradley

ALL THE WRITE MOVES

WRITING A BOOK BRINGS OUT THE RADICAL in Bill Bradley—at least in terms of career moves. "Life on the Run made me realize that it was time to leave basketball," he says. "This book helped me make the same decision about the Senate. I'm uncomfortable being comfortable in a job. I have always preferred moving to sitting still."

Bradley's decision wasn't exactly trailblazing. Twelve other senators have chosen to retire in the last year. "Politics has gotten mean-spirited," he says. "We shout now; we don't listen. Yet the ability to listen is critical to the legislative process, to governing well."

Although many pundits speculate that Bradley's exit frees him for a full-court press on the Presidency, he makes a strong case for remaining a spectator. "It's become a race to the bottom, not to the top," Bradley contends. "Newspaper editors and television executives have to decide not to print or air just what sells but rather to commit to a fairer hearing of the issues. It's just part of good citizenship, a larger responsibility to the country."

Despite the media muggings and gridlock, Bradley has worked some legislative magic. "Tax reform, the Superfund and the Russian high school exchange program have meant an awful lot to me," he says. The defeat of catastrophic health insurance—"a critical net for seniors"—remains a regret.

Still, after 17 years of political life on the run, Bradley seems eager for domestic tranquillity with wife Ernestine—a professor of German and literature at Montclair State University in New Jersey—and daughter Theresa Anne, who is college-bound next fall.

"For 17 years, Ernestine and I have been telling each other to wave as our Metroliners passed each other," says Bradley. Come November, the couple will be back on the same track.

>OF BRUSHSTROKES AND BODICES

WHEN A WOMAN DOESN'T WANT TO show much leg or balks at wearing something low cut, "I start to sweat," admits Giuseppe Dangelico Daeni. The perspiration, however, is not prurient but professional. Daeni, 56, known as Pino, is the premier cover artist for romance novels. But without a good photograph to paint from, his is a tough job. Pino thus spends lots of time at photographers' studios "pushing and squeezing" male and female models together and exhorting them in heavily accented Italian to pump up the sensuality.

"There are so many ways to paint a clinch; I like to give readers a feeling they're seeing a different image with each book," says Pino, who has produced some 1,700 covers during the past 13 years, among them Danielle Steel's Palomino and Kathleen Woodiwiss's Come Love a Stranger, for an average fee of $5,000. He also lays claim to popularizing fellow Neapolitan Fabio.

A self-taught artist, Pino grew up in Bari, a seaside town in southern Italy, and illustrated textbooks and romance magazines in Milan before heading to America in 1979. Today he's too busy to read all the books that he illustrates; instead he relies on a synopsis of the story furnished by clients like Topaz and Bantam before getting to work. "An art director might say, 'Pino, we need a mansion.' We talk about the period, the mood. I try to put myself in the male's shoes. It's very easy for me. I'm good because I'm a romantic," adds Pino, the father of two grown children, who lives with his wife-assistant Chiara, 47, in Cresskill, N.J.

And how does Chiara feel about his work? "She doesn't get jealous. I'm very square," insists Pino. "I don't give her the opportunity to be jealous."

  • Contributors:
  • Wayne Kalyn,
  • Louisa Ermelino,
  • Rob Howe,
  • Ross Drake,
  • William Plummer,
  • Pam Lambert,
  • Joanne Kaufman.