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NEW YORK — What is "so great about writing books," Jane Fonda was saying at a luncheon here in her honor not long ago, "is that you learn things." For example, the actress/aerobics queen revealed, while writing "Women Coming of Age" (with Mignon McCarthy), "that's how I got into walking," Fonda's current personal fitness passion. Her latest volume, "Jane Fonda's New Workout and Weight-Loss Program" (Simon & Schuster, $19.95), reinforced her belief in a low-fat, high-fiber, high-complex carbohydrate diet plan. As living proof of her own regimen, Fonda ravaged a baked potato and prepared for the six-mile promenade around the perimeter of Central Park.

CELEBRITY BIO SWEEPSTAKES: Acquired by Simon & Schuster and Pocket Books for "slightly in excess of $1 million," the autobiography of media magnate Ted Turner "is the one that can most closely approximate the success of 'Iacocca,' " according to Simon & Schuster Trade Publishing Group president Jack Romanos. Said Romanos: "Ted Turner's unparalleled rise in the face of impossible odds to his present status will capture the imaginations of Americans everywhere."

OUT OF (SOUTH) AFRICA: "Due to the continuing political unrest and resulting economic uncertainty in South Africa," Macmillan has sold its P. F. Collier branch operation in that racially troubled country. With 12 employees, the branch sold encyclopedias and related materials.

THE WINNER AND STILL PRESIDENT: Poet/author/priest Malcolm Boyd has been elected to a third term as president of PEN Los Angeles Center.

SOMETHING'S HAPPENING: The ongoing mystique of "Catch-22" continues. In October, the U.S. Air Force Academy will sponsor a two-day seminar to discuss the impact of Joseph Heller's wartime novel on popular culture. The event coincides with the 25th anniversary of a book that now numbers nearly 8,000,000 Dell and Delta copies in print.

LITERACY BANDWAGON: Facts On File's "Visual Dictionary" ($29.95) endeavors to help the reader who knows what an object is called, but not what it looks like. For each copy of the book sold through April 30, 1987, Facts On File will donate 50 cents to Give the Gift of Literacy. In "The Reflexology Workout" (Harmony Books, $7.95), meanwhile, the final page bears this message from the Ad Council for Literacy: "27 million Americans can't read a bedtime story to a child." The full-page plea then goes on to urge readers to call the coalition's toll-free number (1-800-228-8813) and "volunteer against illiteracy."

TURNOVER: Louis Wolfe has retired as chairman and co-chief executive officer of Bantam Books Inc. His replacement is Alberto Vitale, the company's president and now chief executive officer.

CALLING ALL KANGAROOS: Gertrude the Literary Kangaroo, Pocket Books' company colophon for lo these 47 years, will get a new look this summer. The familiar creature will have a "more traditional" image, company spokesman Roger Bilheimer said, and will be shown not only reading a book but carrying one in her pouch. Said Pocket Books publisher and vice president Irwyn Applebaum of the spruced-up Gertrude: "She is the perfect symbol of the satisfied paperback reader--the curious seeker of a wide variety of books in the most convenient and affordable format."

SUCCESS IN BIG NUMBERS: Book sales in 1985 totaled $9,878,500,000, according to estimates released by the Assn. of American Publishers. The figure represents an increase of 8.3%, or $757.1 million, over 1984.

ELECTRONIC MARKET: To publicize "Black Market" (Simon & Schuster), Edgar Award-winner James Patterson's fifth book, the New York adman has whipped up his very own videotape promo. On the cassette, Patterson first touts the virtues of his Wall Street suspense novel, then (presumably to keep the viewer's interest) offers snippets of television commercials made by J. Walter Thompson, where Patterson is executive vice president and creative director.

A NEW LOOK FOR 'RIDING HOOD': Cringing over the sexism in the opening line of a 1920s edition of "Little Red Riding Hood"--"Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who was so sweet and pretty and good that everybody loved her"--and concerned about how such thinking might mold the minds of young readers, Allen D. Bragdon has done a little editing in the facsimile edition he will publish in September. Now the story will begin: "Once upon a time, there lived a little girl whose grandmother was so fond of her that she made her a little red cloak and hood."

AUDIO UPDATE: Beginning in October, books-on-cassette publisher Listen for Pleasure will be carried by Book-of-the-Month-Club Inc. The agreement was arranged through BOMC's Book-of-the-Month Records.

DISCRETIONARY VICTORY: Lindsey Thompson of Memphis has won an all-expense-paid trip for two to Paris, top prize in Dell Publishing's "Indiscretions" consumer contest. About 12,000 entrants filled out forms to enter the contest.

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