There seems to be a conspiracy afoot to save young people from experiencing literature at first hand. In the old days there used to be the two-page plot outline or Classic Comics, but that sort of material rarely helped when the end-term exam began. Now we have essays in which the author's life, the themes of his work, the flavor of his style, the narrative pattern, and the most representative passages are smartly examined, commented upon, and simplified, thus presenting the hurried sophomore or even the graduate student with a fool-proof understanding of some genius he's never read. The most striking recent example of this boost to higher learning for the ambitious groundling is Professor Mizener's discussion of twelve representative American novels, from Cooper's The Deerslayer to James Gould Cozzens' Guard of Honor. Professor Mizener does his Job so well that even minor characters are given brisk snapshot summaries (especially so in the excellent Tender is the Night section), the subtleties of cultural differences are captured in the chapters on Twain and James, and various regional visions are established re the Puritan' irony of Hawthorne, the mythologizing of New England whaling days in Moby Dick, and the basically conservative nature of the South's Gothic landscape as set in Faulkner and Warren. Mizener wishes to ""concur with the common reader."" The latter will be wildly grateful for so competent a trot.