Beach-Bag Books

updated 05/28/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/1984 01:00AM

The most exciting politics this summer may not take place at the conventions but in the pages of Gore Vidal's new novel, Lincoln (Random House, $19.95). After having cast his brilliant and jaundiced eye on statesmen as diverse as the last pagan emperor of Rome (1964's Julian) and the Founding Fathers (1973's Burr), Vidal this time examines the most sacred of American political icons. Not surprisingly, the delightfully waspish author finds Lincoln's times—and its people—duly provocative. He limns the President's wife, Mary, as devoted but mad and his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, as truly Machiavellian. The Great Emancipator, though, is treated reverentially. "The United States as we know it," says Vidal, 58, "is his invention."

The social world as we know it, her fans would say, is the invention of Diana Vreeland. She was a confidante of the Duchess of Windsor, supped at El Morocco with Clark Gable ("He was meat, potatoes—and sex"), and advised Jacqueline Kennedy to carry a little sable muff to her husband's inauguration. For more than half a century octogenarian Vreeland, former editor-in-chief of Vogue and now consultant to New York's Metropolitan Museum, has been the imperatrix of an era she now evokes in her chatty memoirs, D.V. (Knopf, $15.95). The method behind her charmed career? "I'm for bashing on and living," says D.V. Make that living well.

Another expert on that subject is model Cristina Ferrare, who says that if you want to add a little zip to your next dinner party, invite a famous musician, politician—or trial lawyer. (Surely everyone has such friends.) Ferrare's zest for living seems little dampened by husband John De Lorean's courtroom woes. Indeed, in her new book, Style (Simon and Schuster, $16.95), Ferrare, 34, counsels on dressing for success (not distress), decorating with dash and dieting without, ah, jailhouse deprivation. Alas, right at the outset, she warns readers not to go overboard in their expectations. "Face it: You're never going to look exactly like Cheryl Tiegs," cautions Ferrare. "Or me."

For more sober summer reading, try Peter Bogdanovich's The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten: 1960-1980 (William Morrow, $12.95). The film director describes the star-crossed life of the Canadian beauty turned Playboy model and actress who was murdered by her estranged husband. (Mariel Hemingway played Stratten in the 1983 film Star 80.) Bogdanovich, 44, Dorothy's lover for the last five months of her life, says his book is a love story, an anatomy of a murder and an examination of the corruptive morals of Hollywood.

The morals of small-town New England life are, once again, the inspiration for John Updike in The Witches of Eastwick (Knopf, $15.95). But this time his alchemy bubbles unexpectedly. The heroines are three gossipy, hedonistic witches who blithely do away with spouses they don't like and quest for better mates. Though feminists may bristle, the prose is spellbinding.

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