Fresh from a sojourn as novelist (First Hubby, 1990), funny essayist Blount, Jr. (Now, Where Were We?, Not Exactly What I Had In Mind, etc.), returns to his usual modus operandi with a widely varied collection of entertainments. Blount is more pointed and trenchant than ever in this package of reportage, book reviews, poetry (O.K., Blount, we won't mention ``doggerel'' again--how's ``light verse''?), character sketches, travel writing, and, Lord help us, crossword puzzles. And it's all terrific. Despite an occasional dizzying shift in tenses, Blount's writing just gets better and better. The author rivals the Perils of Perelman in Westward, Ha! when he undertakes dog-sledding in Vermont, a safari in Africa, or assaults by piranha and by a memorable guide on a Conrad-like trip up the Amazon. There's a set piece, in true southern intonations, on how the narrator's old Mama became a famous storyteller; for those of a religious bent, there's also an exegesis on the Book of J. Then there are the folks Blount likes (Jimmy Carter and the late Gilda Radner) and the folks he doesn't (the Oval Office's incumbent and his predecessor, as well as malefactors of great wealth). Find out more than anyone ought to know about coon-dog hunting competitions and synchronized swimming meets (in which the girls offer such aquatic show-stoppers as Blitzkrieg-1939 or Rosh Chodesh-Israelean Festival). In a dozen crosswords, Blount explodes words and reassembles them to ``create advanced, antiestablishment, biodegradable crossword puzzles for gain.'' ``The public,'' he says, ``knows what it wants--something dumb--and it isn't easily fooled.'' Yet he may just be the writer to do the fooling; here's a text that's just clever and giddy enough. Comedy may indeed be hard for the moribund, as the old show- biz chestnut has it. But Blount, showman that he is, sure makes it look a lot easier than either dying or camels. All in all, some hard-shell writing talent.