MONDO CANINE.Compiled and editedby Jon Winokur.Dutton.265...

BOOK BRIEFS

December 29, 1991|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK TIDEWATER BY STEAMBOAT: A SAGA OF THE CHESAPEAKE. David C. Holly. Johns Hopkins University. 314 pages. $29.95. | J. WYNN ROUSUCK TIDEWATER BY STEAMBOAT: A SAGA OF THE CHESAPEAKE. David C. Holly. Johns Hopkins University. 314 pages. $29.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MONDO CANINE.

Compiled and edited

by Jon Winokur.

Dutton.

265 pages. $18.95. As proof that even professional curmudgeons love dogs, Jon Winokur -- editor of "The Portable Curmudgeon" and "A Curmudgeon's Garden of Love" -- has created "Mondo Canine."

Like his previous efforts, this volume consists primarily of quotations, articles and stories. True to his record, he includes most of the best and brightest sources, from cana experta Barbara Woodhouse to such literary lights as James Thurber and E. B. White.

There is a wealth of intriguing dog facts: a half-dozen testimonials that dogs actually smile; a glossary defining various growls, barks, yelps and dog body language; and chapters devoted to dog heroes, athletes and soldiers.

My only gripe is the editor's stated prejudice against show dogs, a prejudice that seems to encompass most purebreds as well. Granted, there are some irresponsible breeders, but most are attempting to improve their breeds by creating the soundest possible specimens -- in health, intelligence and body. And, incidentally, Mr. Winokur, isn't that a purebred golden retriever

posing with you on the book jacket?

@ A quick glance at the title and you're apt to think this book is a rewrite of the Chesapeake Bay steamboat classic, "Steamboats Out of Baltimore," by Robert H. Burgess and H. Graham Wood.

But David C. Holly, author of several other works on Chesapeake Bay steamboating, has written a splendid history of the famed Weems Line. The Weems Line steamers plowed up and down the bay and various rivers and creeks between 1819 and 1905, when the line's assets were sold to a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

This is a crisp and fascinating history of one of the bay's great steamboat operators. Mr. Holly has filled his book with magnificent photographs and technical data, which will please any steamboat enthusiast. "Tidewater By Steamboat" recalls a not-so-long ago period in Maryland's history, when most of the state was rural and the only link to the outside world was the steamboats that plied the bay and its tributaries.

FRED RASMUSSEN

THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS

1991.

Edited by Joyce Carol Oates

and Robert Atwan.

Ticknor & Fields.

352 pages. $19.95; $9.95 paperback.

JTC

Given the precarious state of the American magazine, slowly being choked to a premature death by a lack of advertising, suffering from shortened articles and chopped editorial budgets, this collection of essays, culled from 300 nominees, is almost too intense to digest in a single sitting. A single decent essay, all by itself, is a marvelous deception, a short piece that is vast enough to wander in for days. Here are enough remarkable ones, culled from journals as diverse as Tikkun and the Michigan Quarterly Review, GQ and Natural History, to satisfy the cravings of any print junkie.

You will need a road map; magazines have distinctive personalities, but this collection defies category. Woody Allen provides an almost somber meditation on the Holocaust and the state of Israel, only to be followed by a wacky reflection, "The Female Body," by novelist Margaret Atwood. She, in turn, is followed by John Updike, who also considers the female body. It's impossible not to laugh aloud at the disparity between the two views; it is as though someone had asked an Eskimo and a Samoan to describe a bird. Joy Williams' Esquire piece, "The Killing Game," is a great, glib examination of the hunter's psyche.

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