THE STONES OF ATLANTIS; by David Zink; Prentice Hall; $10.95; illustrated.
In this unintentionally hilarious compendium of pseudo-science, David Zink argues that the Caribbean island of Bimini is a remnant of the "lost continent" of Atlantis and-or one of its colonies and-or the source of the story of the Fountain of Youth and-or the site of an ancient civilization founded by visitors from the Pleiades, ca. 28,000 B.C. Buttressing his contentions with dubious evidence that ranges from psychic visions to the writings of Edgar Cayce and Immanuel Velikovsky, Zink makes leaps of faith that should qualify him for the interdenominational Olympics.More reputable scholars, including the late Joseph Campbell, trace the origins of the Atlantis legend to the destruction of the Mediterranean island of Thera in 1485 B.C.; Plato embroidered the story to illustrate the sin of hubris, or overweening vanity - which probably includes presenting one's half-baked pet notions as scientific fact.
STONE WORK: REFLECTIONS ON SERIOUS PLAY AND OTHER ASPECTS OF COUNTRY LIFE; by John Jerome; Penguin; $8.95.
John Jerome attempts to use the process of building a stone wall at his farm in the Vermont Berkshires as a vehicle for philosophical ruminations, a sort of "Zen and the Art of Masonry," but his efforts to use physical labor as a metaphor for larger issues are too self-conscious and effortful.
Unlike Robert Pirsig, his obvious model, Jerome remains a dilettante who lacks a serious commitment to his work. Wall building is a hobby he enjoys fussing with, not a vocation that embodies his view of the world. He frequently contrasts the pleasures of masonry with the mundane drudgery of his job as a writer - although that job allows him to live in considerable luxury - and the reader gets the impression that if Jerome were a professional mason, he'd write about the joys of being an author.
STRAIGHT THROUGH THE NIGHT; by Edward Allen; Soho; $9.95.
This dark, despairing novel takes the form of a rather muddied stream of consciousness. Having abandoned his upper-middle-class background, Chuck Deckle struggles to support himself by working in the meat-packing industry, despite his demonstrable lack of skill. Utterly maladroit, he blunders from one professional and emotional failure to another: Edward Allen's secondary characters exist only to act as snares for his wistful, thick-witted hero.
The last third of the book takes a distinctly nasty turn: Chuck indentures himself to pair of viciously bigoted Kosher butchers, who cruelly abuse him. The anti-Semitic overtones - which Allen tries unsuccessfully to defuse - caused reviewers to call "Straight Through the Night" "disturbing" (among other things) when it first was published.
THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST; by Conrad Richter; Bantam; $3.50.
"The Light in the Forest" has been considered a classic boy's book since it originally was published in 1953. Conrad Richter's tale of divided loyalties centers on John Butler, a boy raised by the Lenni Lenapi Indians, then returned to his white family.
Perhaps because Richter intended the book for juvenile readers, the characters are relentlessly one-note. The honest, dignified, nature-loving Indians are not merely Noble, but Noblest Savages; the white settlers are petty, cruel and deceitful. The bleak, somewhat abrupt ending is considerably stronger than the happy conclusion tacked onto the popular Disney film.
PALM-OF-THE-HAND STORIES; by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman; North Point Press; $9.95.
This collection of brief, spare stories spans the author's long career, from 1923 until his suicide in 1972. The miniature tale, one to three pages in length, seems to have been Yasunari Kawabata's basic unit of composition: His novels resemble chains of linked stories. The brief vignettes in this collection echo the themes of his longer works: love and its attendant sorrows, loneliness, the passage of time and its inevitable effects on the human heart.
Kawabata writes as a perpetual outsider, observing the innocent beauty of children at play in "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket" or the complex sorrows of a widower contemplating the birds his mistress gave him but his wife cared for in "Canaries." Brief but poignant, these tiny slivers of unhappy lives suggest the whole of human existence, as the crescent moon suggests the orb. An excellent introduction for American readers to the work of Japan's only Nobel Prize winner.
THE BLACKSMITH: IRONWORKER AND FARRIER; by Aldren A. Watson; W.W. Norton; $14.95; illustrated.
The first half of Aldren Watson's study has the pleasant, gently didactic tone of a good educational film. Using words and neat ink drawings, he explains the duties and roles of a New England blacksmith: his tools and supplies, his pay, his importance to the community.
The second half of the book is devoted to a set of plans for building a blacksmith's forge, should the reader wish to undertake this unlikely project.