A chance to renew acquaintanceship with the splendidly irritating H. L. Mencken is offered by this selection of about a thousand of his letters written from 1905 to 1955. It's called ""new"" because a completely different selection by Guy Forge, Letters of H. L. Mencken, was issued by Knopf in 1961. Since Mencken wrote an estimated 100,000 letters in his crowded lifetime, there's easily enough for two tomes, although the present volume does include quite a bit of chaff along with some really sustaining wheat. One grows patient with the trivia, however, as it layer-by-layer forms a picture of the burgher of Baltimore, whose ingrained social Darwinism makes him appear at times like a gifted Archie Bunker. One of his gifts is a handsomely straightforward prose style, use it though he does for all manner of bigotry. He also had a good nose for robust realism, sniffing out both Theodore Dreiser and Henry Miller early in their careers. You can see why he was a good editor (Smart Set, 1914-23, and American Mercury, 1925-33) and a potent but frequently wrong-headed editorialist (principally the Baltimore Sunpapers). ""In journalism, it seems to me, it is far better to be wrong than to be timorous,"" he wrote in one of his letters. Consistently irreligious, he says elsewhere in the present volume: ""I often marvel that no-one ever thinks of the dreadful boredom of immortality."" The book also includes a recipe for boiled turkey with oyster sauce that Mencken was thoughtful enough to pass along. It looks well worth trying.