The title, American Scholar editor Epstein (Partial Ideas, 1988, etc.) tells us, is taken from Paul Klee's explanation of his art: ``I take a line out for a walk''-which, Epstein adds, ``describes exactly, precisely, absolutely what I do.'' And so it does, as demonstrated by these congenial essays, which ramble and slide from one idea to another, but always attain some sort of destination, or point. Erudite, opinionated, smug, gleefully self-exposing, Epstein muses here on the allure of fame, the art of the put-down, gambling, envy, the travails of being short (``In literature, treachery is frequently assigned to small people''), the domination of money (``Like the lady said, money is funny, and the biggest laugh may be reserved for those of us who are clownish enough to believe we can rise about it''), etc. In all: provocative after-dinner chat, with sniftered brandy and boxed cigars at hand.