Self-indulgent reminiscences by a Sports Illustrated editor, scion of the Pennsylvania Bowens (Catherine Drinker Bowen, of whose books the family seems not to have thought highly, is his mother), a clan in which the measure of character was performance; hence through the muddy midcourse of adolescence Ezzy strove -- never quite to make it -- for the improvement cup. Then into the inhospitable adult world where it was to come as a shock to realize that ""number one"" in others' lives was not automatically him. Pushing fifty, Bowen sums it all up -- ""grown-ups"" can be counted virtually on the fingers of his one hand: definitely not among the select are his natural father who early on vanished (pages are devoted to why a boy needs a father); stepfather Dr. Downs sort of qualifies, an austere man who addressed Ezzy as thee and spoke in homilies ("". . . if I may offer Mr. Santayana's wisdom, 'persevere in thy own essence' not someone else's""); reigning monarch is Auntie Mame-ish Aunt Ernesta who took him under her wing and into her posh Gramercy Park town house; and there's a grateful acknowledgment to a navy surgeon who pieced together Ezzy's face after a grisly accident. The way Bowen tells it, it's hardly been a rose garden -- still, it seems never to have occurred to him that living well is always the best revenge.