Thirty-odd essays--culled from a dozen years of published encounters between master stylist Amis (Time's Arrow, 1991, etc.) and English-speaking literati and other contemporary phenomena--in a collection as well-honed and readable as it is wide-ranging. In the title piece, a 1981 interview with Nabokov's widow in Montreaux, she appears as a distinctive yet private personality, fully engaged in the business of bolstering her late husband's literary reputation. Similar pilgrimages are conducted to Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, for a chat with John Updike, to Monaco for an afternoon binge with the elusive Anthony Burgess, to V.S. Pritchett in London in order to marvel at his many decades of achievement, and to New York, in an unsuccessful search for Madonna on the publication of Sex. An amiable but keen-eyed raconteur, Amis reveals as much about himself as he does his subject, with impressions of the moment melded into insightful commentary on the author's work. The same is true when he turns to sports, whether accompanying a British soccer club led by owner Elton John on a junket to China, or witnessing the debut of 14-year-old Monica Seles at a tournament in Boca Raton. But his savage critical edge has its place here as well, and he skewers Madonna in her role as amoral media exploiter while painting an even grimmer portrait-- from trips to the Pentagon and Washington think-tanks--of Reagan's doomsday gambit, the Star Wars program. Formulaic at times, and not always geared to an American reader, but still of much interest: excursions that will enhance Amis's reputation as a polished, peripatetic critic--a highly literate observer of the monuments and foibles of our age.