Edited by David Cohen

Produced by the same outfit that has turned out A Day in the Life of America, A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union and a series of similar books, this weighty volume includes more than 175 pictures, most of them in color. They were culled from 150,000 or so shots taken from Thanksgiving, 1987, through Jan. 6, 1988, by 100 photographers. Since this is the holiday season, it would be ungenerous to point out that there is a kind of coastal bias in these pictures—none of them comes from Vermont, Mississippi, North Dakota or Idaho, among other non-media-center states. So too would it be unjolly to note that a considerable number of the photographs seem routine, such as the all-too-average dining room scene from Lynchburg, Tenn., the unrevealing portrait of Jerry Falwell and wife Macel in their Lynchburg, Va.—is there something boring about Lynchburgs?—home or an average, crowded terminal shot from O'Hare Airport in Chicago. More to the festive point, there are lots of evocative scenes, including a shot of a Washington State convict returning home on parole (taken by Peter Haley of the Tacoma Morning News Tribune), and some clever editing, such as juxtaposing a Hawaii beach Christmas with one in Alaska. There are lots of bright reds and greens, and plenty of happy children and smiling Santas of every description. As a tribute to mankind's love of ritual, if nothing else, this will serve until something better comes down the chimney. (Collins, $35)

by Jonathan Schwartz

Schwartz, who speaks so eloquently and knowledgeably about American popular songs and singers on New York's radio station WNEW, writes in this short-story collection with equal knowledge and eloquence about the frequently arid landscapes of the heart. The man who knew Cary Grant is Norman Savitt, a figure seemingly modeled on Schwartz's father, Arthur, the composer—with Howard Dietz—of Dancing in the Dark, I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan and That's Entertainment, among other songs. Savitt broods at one point over a failing attempt to turn out a film: "No money raised, no libretto, no theater, no leading man or woman. Ten years of not being able to get shows on, of other people dragging their feet, indecision piled upon indecision, money pledged and then pulled away." Savitt tells his son, Jesse, "He's in my gut. The man with the pitchfork." Schwartz explains, "The man with the pitchfork's real name was colitis, a word never spoken by Norman. 'He just comes and goes,' Norman often said. 'He's got comp house seats anytime he wants.' " Though Jesse appears in every story in the collection, the most successful pieces are the ones that also include Norman. Schwartz is at his best when limning the relationship between distant father and difficult son, Norman trying with varying degrees of success to connect with Jesse, Jesse with Norman. Especially poignant is Over the Purple Hills, which is set at Jesse's prep school during the Thanksgiving holidays. Jesse believed that his parents thought he "didn't know how to behave. He was so unusually improper that both his mother and father, as loving as they were, as famous as they were, with famous friends to whose houses they would go, in whose houses special meals would be prepared for Jesse's mother because of her illness—that's how LOVED his parents were—couldn't have a life worth living if Jesse was around." Norman tries to compensate. He's encouraged that Jesse has begun saying "absolutely," one of Norman's favorite words, but then at Jesse's behest, the two sit in the backseat of a car, eat their lunch and pretend to be on a trip. "Where," Norman asks as they reach the car. "I don't know," Jesse responds. "Maybe home, for a visit or something. I mean, I wouldn't STAY, or anything." Schwartz chooses his words so carefully and writes with such assurance that it's particularly jarring when he describes large tomatoes as "resembling brain tumors." There are few such slips in this novel, though, and many pleasures. (Random House, $16.95)

by William Gibson

Gibson is the leading voice in cyber-punk, an exciting '80s school of science fiction that mixes high-tech with hip. Mona Lisa Overdrive, his third novel, could be regarded as the completion of a trilogy, containing, as it does, a few recurring characters and many themes familiar from Neuromancer and Count Zero, his first two works. Gibson evokes a bleak, post-(nuclear)bellum, technocratic future ruled by a handful of pan-global corporations. Filled with opulence and rubble—and not much in between—it is a world of bionics, female assassins, designer drugs, artificial intelligence, ubiquitous pollution, computer cowboys and industrial savagery. In this future, information is power and most of that hard, cold data reposes in a monolithic computer matrix. Gibson's outlaw heroes are usually free-lance computer jockeys using their wits, nerve and software to infiltrate the matrix in order to enrich themselves. Mona Lisa Overdrive revolves around the abduction of a specially endowed simstim star. (Simstim is a futuristic form of immersion TV that engages and stimulates all five senses.) In many ways, it is Gibson's most absorbing story to date, but he has so many plot lines working that it takes most of the book for him to generate much narrative momentum. More recondite and jargony—lots of computerspeak—than its predecessors, this book is not a propitious primer to the Gibson oeuvre. Instead, readers who are sci-fi user-friendly may want to begin with the masterly Neuromancer (a Hugo and Nebula Award winner). You'll get to the sequels soon enough. Gibson's vision, while it can be forbidding, is fascinating. (Spectra/Bantam, $17.95)

Selected by Michael Barson

Back in the '50s, teenagers had plenty of cinematic role models if they wanted to rebel, express their individuality and, especially, act real dumb. And to the extent that the child is the parent of the adult, this collection of 31 posters for such movies, gathered by a New York City film buff, may explain something about how the dads and moms of today got to be the way they are. The title film, for instance, a 1959 heavy breather starring Key Clayton and Barbara Wilson, was billed as "The white-hot story of what happens to boys and girls who come to Hollywood...seeking success and clawing their way to the top." Island Women, a 1958 epic with Marie Windsor and Vince Edwards, was also "white-hot," and it revealed "the whole ripped-bare story of the beach babes of the Caribbean." Connie Stevens starred in The Party Crashers, which raised the question, "Who are the delinquents—kids or their 'respectable' parents?" Dragstrip Girl—"Car crazy! Speed crazy! Boy crazy!"—featured Fay Spain and Frank Gorshin, and some unusual casting put William Bendix and Hoagy Carmichael in Boys Prison, "The story of the teenage terror!" The posters are printed in postcard format and are detachable. It's hard to imagine, though, who could bear to part with the timeless poster from Untamed Youth, "starring the girl built like a platinum powerhouse," Mamie Van Doren. (Pantheon, paper, $8.95)

by Rita Mae Brown

Bingo and sex are both about available numbers, and whether Brown is talking about a B-4 or a "be mine," the anxiety, frustration and humor of each game is given a joyously comic turn in her eighth novel. Like her 1978 Six of One, this book relies for its humor on the elderly Hunsenmeir sisters, Julia, 82, and Louise, 86. Together they are a pair of widows saucy enough to be The Golden Girls. But their exploits are only one of the attractions in Runnymede, a town on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border that's divided by the Mason-Dixon Line. Narrated by Nickel, Julia's bisexual daughter, this novel follows three interconnected plots. The first turns upon Julia and Louise's efforts to snare the new man in town (he, too, plays church-sponsored bingo). The other plots focus on Nickel's personal and professional lives. As editor at the local newspaper, she is trying to raise enough money to buy the paper from the retiring owner. She is also having an affair with the paper's male lawyer. With the brisk timing of a good stand-up routine and almost as many one-liners, Brown merges these stories by relying on broad comedy and a gift for dialogue. Despite the plentiful slapstick, though, Brown is concerned with raising issues of individuality and sexual definition. Halfway through, Nickel is lectured on relationships. "You need to be someone's Number One and vice versa," says her friend Mr. Pierre. "Detachment is fine for your profession but not so fine for your life." In another conversation Nickel wonders, "If the price of honesty is getting your head bashed in or losing your job, who but the brave are going to tell the truth?" Throughout, the relationship between a community and its ability to include or exclude individuals, to absorb or reject difference, is humanely explored with a style that minimizes rhetoric while maximizing laughter. There are 291 pages in Bingo, but a reader will run out of text long before running out of interest. (Bantam, $18.95)

by Gary Carey

The subject of this rather disappointing book created one of the most memorable—and singular—American characters in 20th-century literature, the gold-digging innocent, Lorelei Lee, of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos spotted the theatrical potential of Colette's Gigi, rescued the screen version of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women and churned out scripts for Pickford, Harlow, Gable, Crawford, Tracy. But despite her Hollywood high steps—and her self-perpetuated image as a fun-loving flapper—Anita Loos was a fairly low-key character. How else could she find time to produce more than 200 scripts, several books, plays and articles, even in a career that spanned seven decades? Indeed, Loos, the second child of a sedate home-making mother and philandering publisher father, must have felt a need to repair the dramatic defects of her own story early on. As a small child, she insisted her family drop her first name (Corinne) for what she perceived as her more exotic middle name, Anita; in later years, she liked to suggest she had written her first screenplay at 14 (she was 24) and Blondes in her 20s (she was nearly 40). The most interesting aspect of her life seems to have been her miserably unhappy marriage to film director John Emerson, who not only took credit for many of Loos's projects while living off their proceeds but repaid her tolerance by cheating on her and eventually succumbing to a crippling hypochondria. Anita was fairly upfront about Emerson's failings in her autobiographical writings: "Mr. E had started our marriage off by demanding freedom to choose his own associates; so he had to allow me the same privilege." Carey lacks the psychological depth—or reportorial skills—to offer much new insight into Loos's decision to stand by "Mr. E." Other potentially fascinating relationships—such as those with her aggressive housekeeper-companion Gladys and the adopted daughter she dubbed "Miss Moore"—are explored only long enough for the reader to emerge thoroughly confused about Loos's affections and motives. Another odd connection, with future bandleader Peter Duchin, comes up only in passing: Carey blithely notes that Loos was appointed temporary guardian of the motherless and ailing toddler, then abruptly drops the subject. Perhaps no life could match the legend Loos herself created, but surely this most original woman could not have been the diffident bore depicted here. (Knopf, $24.95)

>SLOW HOMECOMING A Peter Handke novel tackles ideas of form, reality and Cézanne. (Collier)

FEAR OF FLYING "Womanhood was so circumscribed by male definitions of womanhood that women found it hard to define themselves. If this book made a measure of self-acceptance possible, then I am grateful," says Erica Jong, introducing a new edition of her liberating 1973 novel. If nothing else, she made it acceptable for women to write about sex, zipless and otherwise. (Signet)

TEXASVILLE Larry McMurtry's fictional town of Thalia and several characters from The Last Picture Show reappear in a novel with only a tenuous connection to real life. (Pocket)

IF YOU CAN'T SAY SOMETHING NICE This cantankerous collection of syndicated columns clearly proves it's not nice to fool Calvin Trillin. (Penguin)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • V.R. Peterson,
  • Susan Toepfer.