For his 18th book, Lester (Lovesong, 1987, etc.) offers a mixed bag of essays. uneven in quality, many reprinted (from Salamagundi, The New Republic, etc.). Lester, who describes himself as a black scholar and converted Jew, ranges in subjects from Thomas Merton to black and white relations to video games to safe sex. When he discusses issues associated with blacks, he is solidly on home ground. His analyses of Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson and their role in American society. for example, are pointed and thoughtful. Once the object of an attempt to remove him from his teaching post at Amherst for his ""vicious attitudes toward blacks. . . Jackson. . .Baldwin,"" Lester shows considerable courage in expressing views that will likely be condemned by his peers (e.g., criticizing Baldwin for his anti-Semitism). On other subjects, Lester is not so steady: Henry Miller would probably have been surprised to discover that he was ""the elder statesman of the Beat generation,"" while Lester's meandering discussion of Thomas Merton confines itself to criticizing Merton's biographers and tells us nothing new about Merton. tits compact essay on the life and thought of Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, is a fine introduction to this giant of letters. The balance of the book consists of cutesy column-length essays on such subjects as pollution in space, Rosh Hashanna, and Bernard Goetz. Active in black movements since the Sixties, Lester is a welcome iconoclast and unsullied idealist in an era when Bobby Seale touts his barbeque cookbook and Huey Newton has been shot in a crack rip-off. Once the dead wood is sorted through, then, an interesting and provocative collection.