Twenty-nine high-wire acts that prove Elkin (The MacGuffin, 1991; The Rabbi of Lud, 1987, etc.) one of our zaniest acrobats of the acerb since Perelman. Elkin wrote these pieces over the past ten years or so, as personal reminiscences or as introductions to his own reprint volumes or to story collections by others. As ever, one stands in the blast as Elkin goes into meltdown. For Elkin to be with it, his muse must be in wordgasm, or so he apparently thinks ("Like some human beast, [the flamenco dancer] seems to rise from the broad, tiered flounces of her costume as from a package of waves at a shoreline, the great, fabric petals of her long train swirled, heaped as seawater at her feet..."). Some readers, however, will bless him when he relaxes and a story or linear subject forms on the nova. At his best, as in "My Middle Age" and "My Father's Life," he's personal, even heartfelt: "The forties were my father's decade. He looked like a man of the forties. The shaped fedora and the fresh haircut, shined shoes...His soft silver hair, gray since his twenties; the dark, carefully trimmed mustache; the widow's peak; the long, patrician features; his good cheekbones like drawn swords. The vague rakishness of his face like a kind of wink." Elkin is absorbing when bemused by the needs of fiction, telling us about plot, scholarship, the writing craft, and how his short stories came to be, or when taking jabs at his multiple sclerosis. He strikes strong notes of homecoming when meeting the current owner of the Johnson-Smith novelty company (whose ads appear in the back of comic books), and truly tings bells when describing his lust for bars of soap from hotels around the world (he has five or six thousand bars). Bed-table sedative that amuses with hairpin turns and arabesques.