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'NNNNN: A Novel'

By Carl Reiner

Simon & Schuster, $21.

This novel — Carl Reiner's first in 10 years — is a strictly-for-laughs story of Nat Noland, a nutty author struggling to finish his fifth novel, a quirky rewrite of the Cain and Abel story.

As Nat works on the novel, he progresses slowly, partly because he keeps getting into arguments with himself about which direction to go. Nat's wife, Glennie, hears these arguments and convinces Nat to see a psychiatrist.

Through psychoanalysis, Nat decides the root of his problems might be traced to the fact that he was adopted and that he may have a twin.

With the help of a detective agency, Nat discovers that it is more complex — he's not a twin but a triplet.

Reading this book is strangely like reading the script for a Reiner TV show — fast dialogue with lots of punch lines. — Dennis Lythgoe

'Living Large'

By Michael Berman with Laurence Shames

Rodale Books, $24.95

Michael Berman is an attorney and lobbyist in Washington and was once chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale. His co-author, Laurence Shames, is a well-known writer. Together they explore the pains and difficulties of a self-proclaimed "fat man."

Berman lives in a world of diet books, weight-loss ads and news stories on the perils of obesity. He has come to believe that his life as "a jolly fat man," at least overtly, is really one caused by disease, something that privately frustrates him but has not limited his personal success.

During his life, Berman professes to have tried at least 20 different diets. He has even resorted to hospitalization to help him through carefully calculated weight-loss programs that have failed.

He says he hopes his book will help others who suffer as he does, people with little hope of losing weight. — Dennis Lythgoe

'Why Most Things Fail'

By Paul Ormerod

Pantheon, $24.95.

Paul Ormerod, a London economist, has for many years been impressed by "the pervasive existence of failure."

This book, subtitled "Evolution, Extinction and Economics," goes after the conventional economic theory that the world economy ticks in equilibrium, sort of like a Swiss watch. Ormerod believes that whether a business, a policy, a theory or a living organism is being studied, it must evolve or die.

Yet the author also believes that failure can be "highly beneficial — it can enhance the fitness of the system as a whole."

Although the book jacket is lighthearted and satirical, the content of the book is quite dense, more like reading an academic book than a comic one. Ormerod is deadly serious in his approach, but many of his points are well taken. — Dennis Lythgoe