Although (or perhaps because) by current standards this collection tends more toward lite crit than lit crit, readers will find in Auchincloss (Tales of Yesteryear, 1994, etc.) an elegant and erudite companion in reading the canon. All but one of these 18 essays (many reprints or revisions of previously issued pieces) look at writers and their works: Percy Lubbock and his friendship with Edith Wharton; Gore Vidal's American history novels; and, in a capsule account, the works of novelist William Gaddis. Even the sole exception, on the ``inner FDR,'' sees the president's identification with the US as a ``kind of artistic creation.'' An account of correspondence between the retired Eton housemaster George Lyttleton and the author and editor Rupert Hart-Davis reminds us how much has been lost with the demise of the epistolary form. A discussion of the three dramatic episodes cut by Pound from ``The Waste Land'' raises questions on how Eliot originally conceived of the poem. Well-chosen examples help make a case for just how little Henry James learned from his unfortunate efforts at writing plays. Consistently thoughtful without being ponderous, Auchincloss employs a dry sense of humor. For example, one piece that intertwines the literary virtues of Clarissa with the moral virtues of its title character, casually notes that another Richardson heroine, Pamela, ``managed to hold on to her virtue and sell out in a bull market.'' It is a thick-skinned reader who can emerge from this collection without some yearning to look up at least one of the works Auchincloss plumbs with such obvious pleasure.