AMERICAN DATELINES by Ed Cray, Jonathan Kotler and Miles Beller (Facts on File: $24.95; 382 pp.). Nothing is as fragile as a newspaper byline; in a single generation, it’s been said, the great names of the city room are one with Nineveh and Tyre. Hoping to stem that sad tide, a trio from USC’s School of Journalism has rescued 140 actual news stories from dusty morgues and yellowing clip files. Now you can read the police story filed by the Washington Post’s Al Lewis that first reported the Watergate break-in; cringe at “A Dastard’s Deed,” a rather partisan reporting of the shooting of Jesse James, and stand in awe with a New York Times reporter on top of the newly opened Empire State Building. A nifty idea, imaginatively executed, and complete with the original, often hyperventilating headlines.
THE QUOTE SLEUTH: A Manual for the Tracer of Lost Quotations by Anthony W. Shipps (University of Illinois Press: $24.95; 194 pp.). According to Shipps, who takes as his motto Dr. Watson’s observation that “like all Holmes’s reasoning the thing seemed simplicity itself when it was once explained,” no quote is ever truly lost, only temporarily misplaced. Shipps not only shares his familiarity with such arcane volumes of quotes as “The Wit and Wisdom of George Eliot” and the potentially oxymoronic “Quote It! Memorable Legal Quotations,” he is also full of such hard-earned bits of information as “when you see the heroic couplet, you should think first of Pope.” This is not only the most intriguing reference book of the year, it is also larded with more than its share of memorable quotes, such as Mark Twain’s observation that “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”
THE FEMINIST COMPANION TO LITERATURE IN ENGLISH, edited by Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy and Patricia Clements (Yale University Press: $49.95; 1,231 pp.). This authoritative tome did not easily see the light of day: That trio of editors and 75 other contributors labored for eight years to compile more than 2,700 thoughtful, spirited entries ranging from stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, author of “The G-String Murders” (“praised by Janet Flanner for its ‘decollete’ style and ‘mascara language’ ”), to medieval visionary and recluse Julian of Norwich, “currently claimed as patron by widely varying political and religious groups.” A most impressive work that can be used both literally and figuratively as a club to subdue stubborn sexists.
TRAVELS IN ARABIA AND AFRICA: Four Lectures by Sir Richard Burton, edited by John Hayman (The Huntington Library: $24.95; 120 pp.). and CATALOGUE OF THE LIBRARY OF SIR RICHARD BURTON, K.C.M.G. by B. J. Kirkpatrick (The Huntington Library: $19.95; 182 pp.). Of all the facts in the life of this famous traveler, translator and intrepid collector of expressive erotica, perhaps none is odder than that his library has come to rest in the sunny confines of San Marino’s Huntington Library. This handy guide to what he read lists everything from “Notes on Scalping” to the sonnets of Milton. Burton’s lectures, apparently delivered while the great man spent a genteel exile as British consul to Brazil, give the full flavor of both his fierce temperament and his fiercer curiosity.
THE MOVIE LIST BOOK: A Reference Guide to Film Themes, Settings, and Series by Richard B. Armstrong and Mary Willems Armstrong (McFarland & Co . , Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640: $31.95 postpaid; 377 pp.). The idea of cataloguing films by subject is not really a new one, but no previous volume has attacked the task with such zeal and such an oddball sensibility. What is one to say, after all, about a book that lets you know in no uncertain terms that “the movie dentist has experienced a checkered career since his extravagant debut in Erich von Stroheim’s nine-hour marathon silent movie, ‘Greed.’ ” Other sections include movies about insects, tattoos, the Bermuda Triangle and Bigfoot. And for those looking for something more elevated, there is a list of both Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales and his Comedies and Proverbs.
SEEDS IN THE WIND: Early Signs of Genius, edited by Neville Braybrooke (Mercury House: $17.95; 208 pp.). If you think it’s easy to discern future greatness in the musings of childhood, this determined little book will change your mind. Who could foresee “Animal Farm” or “1984" in the 11-year-old George Orwell, who began a poem with the stanza “Oh! give me the strength of the Lion / The wisdom of Reynard the Fox / And then I’ll hurl troops at the Germans / And give them the hardest of knocks.” Many future literary giants chose the oddest of topics for their first efforts: W. H. Auden wrote a deeply felt ode to “The Traction Engine,” T. E. Lawrence held forth on “Playground Football” and Stevie Smith wrote a jaunty poem called “Spanky-Wanky.” Also included is a grumpy letter to the editor from James Thurber, who declared: “Nobody wants his earliest and worst writing to be perpetuated. Such a collection would be nothing but a big bore.” You have been warned.
WALKS IN HEMINGWAY’S PARIS by Noel Riley Fitch (St. Martin’s Press: $16.95; 195 pp.) . It is impossible to walk through certain sections of Paris without thinking of the literary masters who walked there before you, and equally impossible to figure out exactly where they walked. A certain cafe may look as though it were created expressly for short-story writing, a downtrodden hotel can seem the perfect place for a penniless scribe to hole up in, but who’s to know for sure? Now, thanks to Ms. Fitch, one can say with assurance that Le Pre aux Clercs at 30 rue Bonaparte was Ernest Hemingway’s first neighborhood restaurant, and that the fourth-floor walk-up at 74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine was his first apartment. And because Hemingway was such a gregarious sort, we also learn the haunts of cohorts ranging from John Dos Passos to James Joyce.
STATESMAN’S YEAR-BOOK, edited by John Paxton (St. Martin’s Press: $65; 1,690 pp.). c,8.5,pl For 127 years, the folks over at England’s The Statesman have been putting out this positively encyclopedic compendium of facts and statistics about the countries that uneasily coexist in our world. This may sound terribly dry, but there is something compelling about a book that tells you there are 657 cinemas in Columbia (64 of them in Bogota), that the air force of Rwanda includes 10 helicopters and that July and August are virtually rainless everywhere in Portugal. Countries like the United States, the U.S.S.R., and India, which are made up of sizeable states, are given a separate section for each state, and the yearbook also boasts tables showing worldwide cultivation of wheat, maize, barley, oats and the like. As comprehensive a book as the law allows.
THE CONDOM INDUSTRY IN THE UNITED STATES by James S. Murphy (McFarland & Co . , Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640: $31.95 postpaid, 176 pp . ). Written by an economist and former vice president of a major condom manufacturer, this earnest study, complete with tables like “Nominal Natural Latex Prices” and “Ten-Year Drugstore Sales Trends,” is an unexpectedly engrossing look at an industry that the specter of AIDS has drawn back into the limelight. Though the historical introduction that traces the condom back to Egypt, circa 1350 BC, may appear to be the most involving to non-economists, the section about the manufacturing and testing process (“Condoms usually stretch beyond the required 1.5 cubic feet, about the size of a watermelon, before bursting”) is equally alluring. The description of The Kinked Demand Curve, however, is not nearly as racy as it sounds.
NAME THE SEVEN DWARFS: And Other Numbered Diversions by Diane Giddis (William Morrow: $15.95; 168 pp.) . The idea for this book apparently came to its author on a convivial night in a bar, but its fascination is hardly limited to imbibers. Who among us would not like to have, conveniently located in one slim volume, a list of the five Iroquois nations, the six crises faced by Richard Nixon, the 12 actors who played “The Dirty Dozen,” or, if you’re of a more spiritual bent, Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith and the 14 stations of the cross? This volume certainly fills a need, though one feels hard-pressed to say exactly what that need is.