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Books: Leisure reading

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Poetry for all

You might expect Laurie Anderson to be a poetry fan or Jimmy Breslin to savor Yeats, but who ever knew that Geraldine Ferraro loved Kipling?

But sure enough, they were part of the eclectic roster of celebrities who assembled at New York's Town Hall to read selections of their favorite verse.

"America is not, contrary to popular opinion, a country that ignores its poets," said Robert Pin-sky, the nation's poet laureate and the evening's host. "We are a nation with a powerful film industry and visual arts but we, too, are a vital part of American culture."

The reading, which brought about 1,000 people in out of the soaking rain, was the opening event of the Favorite Poem Pro-ject, Pinsky's plan to assemble an audio and video archive of 1,000 average Americans reciting their best-loved poems.

- Jesse McKinley

New York Times News Service

`The Muhammad Ali Reader'

Edited by Gerald Early

Ecco, $26

"His eyes were wise and canny, like Ray Robinson's," Murray Kemp-ton wrote as he watched Cassius Clay after his astonishing victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. Clay looked at the journalists who had laughed at him before the fight and said, "I told you. I just played with him. I whipped him so bad and wasn't that good. And look at me: I'm still pretty."

Was that what drew so many writers to this brash, poetry-spouting man?

Here is a splendid collection of writings about Muhammad Ali by the likes of Irwin Shaw, Jimmy Cannon, Norman Mailer, Pete Ha-mill, Roger Kahn, Garry Wills, Hunter Thompson, Joyce Carol Oates and Gay Talese. There's also an excerpt from Ali's 1975 interview with Playboy in which he talks about how he would like to be remembered - as a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, as a man who wouldn't hurt his people's dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them, as a great boxer who became a preacher and a champion of his people.

And then, he added, "I wouldn't even mind if folks forgot how pret-ty I was."

- Anne Stephenson

The Arizona Republic

`The Real McKay:

My Wide World of Sports'

By Jim McKay;

Dutton, $24.95

Behind-the-scenes tidbits are spinkled throughout sportscasting Hall of Famer Jim McKay's new auto-bio-graphy. Despite the subtitle, the book will be a disappointment for television junkies hoping for provocative details of McKay or his television brethren. It is notably light on its insights of McKay, who is too modest a fellow to share much of himself, or the broadcasting giants with whom McKay has spent the past 50 years.

An accidental sportscaster, McKay wanted to become a news anchor but never made it back to news - except during the Munich Olympics of 1972. He skillfully anchored the network's tense coverage of the hostage-taking and eventual blood bath of Israeli athletes.

McKay, now semiretired on a 40-acre Maryland estate, is a singularly good guy in a business increasingly populated by trash-talking gossipers. Consequently, he stokes little controversy here but does offer some personal views. He doesn't like loudmouths, boxing or the idea of prepubescent girls forsaking their youth to skate in the Olympics.

- John Morgan

The Baltimore Sun