Wispy memoirs of growing up in the cultivated German-Jewish milieu of N.Y.C., which take on more heft as Straus--widow of the late publisher Robert Straus--recalls with verve writers like Lillian Hellman and Jerzy Kosinski. Born into a world of wet-nurses, French maids, and annual trips to Europe on great liners, Straus describes these and other now-antique phenomena. Her prose is as languid and baroque as the past she evokes recalling family and friends: her father, a celebrated man about town until his marriage; her mother, for whom music was never compensation enough for the tedium of running a large household; the family doctor, brother of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, on whose apartment wall pictures by Georgia O'Keeffe and others ``became a type of family portraiture''; the innovative founder of the Dalton School, which Straus attended; and ``old maids''--a now extinct species--who visited the family home, grateful ``for the hospitality dispensed by a member of the privileged order of matrons.'' Straus's comments on her writer friends are pithy and to the point: There's Lillian Hellman--whom Straus last saw a few weeks before the playwright's death, ill but still ``witty and wicked,'' who ``would gladly have traded all her success in exchange for the pretty kitten features of a belle, a white pillared mansion, and an indigenous Southern lineage''; Jerzy Kosinski, whom Straus had invested with a ``supernatural invincibility'' but who probably found his memories of the Holocaust too heavy to endure; Margaret Yourcenar, who had ``the beauty of perfect control''; and Bernard Malamud, the voice of the Jewish immigrants that ``continues to resonate.'' Better only to nibble at the early recollections--and then feast on the literary reminiscences: They really make the book.