BY PHOEBE ADAMS
In IDIOTS FIRST (Farrar, Straus, $4.50) BERNARD MALAMUD presents a collection of short stories about the misfortunes of dreary, incompetent, boring people and contrives to make all his dismal characters interesting. An old shopkeeper loses his trade to the new chain store, a timid academic muffs a love affair, a bad painter bumbles through an Italian melodrama, tossing away a fortune as he goes. All these characters are the sort that normally infest books described on the dust jacket as “compassionate,” meaning that the reader’s heart is expected to bleed for the imbecile dregs of humanity. In Mr. Malamud’s precise, economical prose, compassion has no place, but wit, intelligence, and understanding reveal his idiots as people worthy of respect, putting up the best fight they can manage with the weapons at hand.
Louis UNTERMEYER, veteran compiler of poetry anthologies, has edited AN UNINHIBITED TREASURY OF EROTIC POETRY (Dial, $7.50), much of which would have been considered daring in 1910, although hardly an item in the book would have raised a blush in 1800.
In the past, LEONARD COTTRELL has proved himself an accomplished reporter of archaeological finds in terms designed for the interest and comprehension of the general reader. His latest book, REALMS OF GOLD (New York Graphic Society, $5.95), describes recent discoveries about Homer’s world — that is, Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece. Some of Mr. Cottrell’s material is necessarily repetitious, having appeared in his earlier books, and some is inconclusive, for the sites Mr. Cottrell visited in Thessaly are only beginning to be dug out. (It is difficult to excavate under a lively modern town.) For these reasons, Realms of Gold is not the best of Mr. Cottrell’s books, but it is, as usual, well-organized, careful reporting enlivened by intense personal enthusiasm.
HANS HOLZER calls himself “a professional investigator of ghosts, haunted houses, and other ‘spontaneous’ phenomena,” and GHOST HUNTER (Bobbs-Merrill, $4.50) is his report of findings in a number of houses afflicted with odd happenings. Like most such books, this one cannot be taken seriously except by readers already convinced that creaks in an old building must have some cause beyond rust and termites. Mr. Holzer’s ghosts accomplish little, and their prattlings through the mouth of a good medium are fairly pointless. These conditions have inspired Mr. Holzer to a theory about ghosts which is new to me and certainly accounts for their lackadaisical performance. Ghosts, he believes, were pretty weak-witted when they were alive.
Some years ago, FARLEY MOWAT, just out of a university, was engaged by the Canadian authorities to study wolves in the Keewatin Barrens. NEVER CRY WOLF (Atlantic—Little, Brown, $4.95) is his account of what he forthwith learned about working for the government (infuriating), travel by bush plane (alarming), Indians (baffling), and wolves (delightful). The wolf, in Mr. Mowat’s view, is a sensible, courteous, wellbred beast, really far too civilized to associate with human beings — which may be the reason why he generally gets such a bad press. The book is funny and fast-moving and, incidentally, agrees with the findings of other naturalists who have observed wolves. The Canadian government, after the fashion of governments, has never paid any discernible attention to the information it hired Mr. Mowat to assemble.
DR. KAARE RODAHL’S book about Eskimos, THE LAST OF THE FEW (Harper & Row, $4.95), is less consciously amusing than Never Cry Wolf, but it has something of the same unprejudiced freshness of outlook. Dr. Rodahl was sent to Alaska to find out why Eskimos are hotter, literally, than other people. Is it construction or environment? was the question. When not testing Eskimos, Dr. Rodahl attended a Christmas party and a roaring drum dance, went walrus hunting, rode dogsleds, and suffered from a poltergeist. He is neither sentimental nor supercilious in dealing with Eskimos, and he has produced a very pleasant, informative book about a vanishing culture.
SUN, STONES AND SILENCE (Simon and Schuster, $12.50) contains fine photographs of Egypt by Dorothy Hales Gary and a somewhat overblown text by ROBERT PAYNE.