Norman Mailer at 75

NEW YORK - He is a courtly old gent, limping precariously on a bad knee across his top-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights, a flat gray light sweeping in from the harbor. "Oh, I have been using too many big words," he says, a little sheepishly, a shy smile breaking across his furrowed face.

Here is Norman Mailer at the age of 75, a half-century after the publication of "The Naked and the Dead," his career-making debut about soldiers in the South Pacific during World War II. To mark the moment, he is publishing a compilation of lengthy excerpts from his work over the years, fiction and nonfiction, essays and journalism.

It is called "The Time of Our Time." Those tempted to think of it as the Portable Mailer might first try to pick it up. At 1,286 pages, it stands taller than the Manhattan white pages, which it outweighs.

"What people don't understand is that religion has been a major theme of all of my work," Mailer says. "For the last 50 years, my preoccupation has been religion. What might God be? I am searching for a notion of God that is alive for me."

The boxer, the braggart, the king of all authors, the radical with a prankster's love of debate: where has he gone? He's still here.

"My God is an existential God," Mailer says. "A God who is doing the best that He or She can do."

- Rick Lyman

(New York Times News Service)

A life in music

`Richard Rodgers'

by William G. Hyland

Yale University Press, $30

From most reliable accounts, Richard Rodgers was a hard man to know and often an even harder one to like. For every colleague who praised his charm, wit and dedication, there seemed as many who remembered him as an aloof, detached, even cold presence.

To its credit, William G. Hyland's new life of the composer, "Richard Rodgers" (Yale University Press, $30) doesn't scant this problematic side of the man whose partnerships with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II are twin peaks of 20th century American musical theater. Neither indicting nor defending, Hyland presents his subject's utterances and behavior in no-frills fashion, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

Errors of fact do turn up often. Bix Beiderbecke and his six-piece jazz "Gang" recorded only one Rodgers and Hart song, "Thou Swell." Woody Herman's late '40s band was not his "Thundering Herd" (a much later sobriquet), and its "four brothers" saxophone section contained not four, but three tenors and a baritone.

And the prose seldom comes to life, itself no infraction; but more serious is the author's apparent policy in acknowledging his sources.

Rodgers is a challenging, contradictory, ultimately enigmatic figure - confirming the need for a musically incisive, keenly observed biography. Regrettably, this doesn't seem to be it

- Richard M. Sudhalter

(The Baltimore Sun)

Nature, kids-style

"Bugs," $12.95

"Animal 123's," $12.95

The World Wildlife Fund offers two nature books for the summer: "Bugs," a beautiful collection of full-color photos with only the name of each bug as text; and "Animal 123's," a counting book filled with equally lovely animal pictures ($12.95 each, ages 4-8).

- Associated Press