Elegantly written--and elegantly imagined--critical essays on literature and the love it breeds; by the octogtenarian American poet laureate. Ranging over half of his literary life, from the 1940's to the present, these selected essays show off Warren as the versatile man of belles-lettres that he is. Sandwiched between opening and closing meditative essays on poetry are easy-moving studies of literary heavyweights and answers to timeless questions about books. In "Why Do We Read Fiction?," Warren answers, "because we like it," looking to novels not for "meaning" but escape. He does find meaning elsewhere, in Hemingway, for example, where the "shadow of ruin" behind his stories is given yet another new turn. In "Hawthorne Revisited," Warren wriggles out "the irremediable askewness of life" from The Scarlet Letter. A bio-graphically minded essay on Twain matches up the contradictions of the life and the writing and refreshes understanding of the pure "expression" of his language. Elsewhere, Warren takes up the overlooked. "Melville the Poet" rescues his verse from obscurity and opprobrium, and a long, reflective essay on Whittier incites some strong, old feelings on abolitionism. Other tributes go out to John Crowe Ransom and Robert Frost; Warren has almost nothing bad to say about anyone. The book ends with his well-known 1946 essay on Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Like everything else here, it still stands up and merits rereading. No slips of taste or shoddy judgments, yet no surprises, either. Just great, old-fashioned musing by a brilliant man.