`Scorpion Tongues'

If you think Bill Clinton has suffered unduly from vicious rumor and innuendo, consider the story of John Fremont, the young explorer whom the brand-new Republican Party ran against James Buchanan, statesman and Democrat, in 1856. This was the era when "virtually every presidential contender was rumored to be either a bastard or the father of a secret second family - sometimes both," Gail Collins writes in "Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics" (William Morrow, $25), her useful and amusing book whose title comes from first lady Louisa Adams's memorable phrase for political gossip. We may get the candidates we deserve. But as Collins observes, "the gossip of every election is very much a product of the issues and anxieties of the moment."Collins, who follows political gossip from the editorial board of The New York Times, dishes the dirt on just about every presidential candidate and explains the reasons behind the tall tales.

The sad message of "Scorpion Tongues," however, is that gossip is going to get worse. The modern trend began with Gary Hart baiting the press to catch him at it. They did and he was toast. With politicians inflated into celebrities, the genie was out of the bottle.

- Margo Miller,

The Boston Globe

`Still Me'

In his new book, "Still Me," Christopher Reeve (Random House, $25), Superman to millions of people, tells the story of his life on both sides of the riding accident that in 1995 essentially severed his head from his body, paralyzing him from the neck down.

For the first time, he reveals in the book that his injuries were so grave that his mother begged his doctors to withdraw life support. And he writes, also for the first time, that he himself considered ending his life but was dissuaded by the words of his wife, Dana Morosini: "I will support you whatever you want to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what."

Then, he wrote, "She added the words that saved my life: `You're still you. And I love you.' "

Reeve wrote "Still Me" himself, dictating it to an assistant. Originally, he contracted with columnist Roger Rosenblatt to write the book, for which Reeve received a $3 million advance. But "I began to see I needed to tell my own story," he said. "Roger very graciously bowed out."

- Dinitia Smith,

New York Times News Service

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`Soul Food'

The pages of "Soul Food; Recipes and Reflections from African American Churches" by Joyce White (Harper Collins, $25), are filled with grainy black-and-white snapshots of church suppers and women in aprons tending big pots of greens on the stove. It is not the first African-American cookbook to wander down this memory lane.

But unlike many such books, this one is written with an alluring combination of personal attachment and keen observation. The author, Joyce White, a food journalist who studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, was originally from Choctaw County, Ala.

"Our culinary history in this country is profound and influential," she says in her introduction. "Our forebears worked this nation's great kitchens, from the White House to the plantations of the South."

Those looking for updated "light" or low-fat soul will be disappointed. About the closest White comes to satisfying the demands of haute cuisine is a recipe for creamed corn made with fresh corn stripped from the cob.

With a potentially wide audience in mind, she provides some very basic cooking information, like how to measure ingredients and select baking pans. There is also a good guide to various greens . . .. But where is the peach cobbler, or any cobbler, for that matter?

- Florence Fabricant,

New York Times News Service