With rare exceptions, American critics give the impression of being Sisyphean laborers hauling their jazzy commendations or all too earnest pronouncements up the steep grammatical peaks of daily or weekly reviewing. Manipulating language does not come easy to Americans -- at least it doesn't when compared with our English cousins, someone like Anthony Burgess, for instance. Burgess, of course, is better known as a novelist, but a good deal of the verve and sheer linguistic fervor he sports in his fiction is amply present in this instructive and quite stylish collection of "literary studies." Burgess is a word-man par excellence, so it is not surprising to come across such outre gems as "ludibundance," "omnifutuant," and teleorgasms." What is unexpected is the general level of great good sense Burgess displays in his critical judgments: in style; he may have Joycean exuberance, but in evaluating everyone from Milton to Levi-Strauss and McLuhan he travels the broad-middle ground so thunderously advocated by Dr. Johnson. Thus his vivid metaphors are counterbalanced by the essentially conservative cast of his mind, and the variety of his interests (he can be equally cogent on Kipling and pornography) are saved from dilettantism by the strict observance of scholarly rules and acumen. In short, a pleasure to read and to ponder.