Well, then, why not ask a range of fiction writers, poets, and essayists to write about what they believe has influenced their work?"" So wondered editor Berg, who longed for a more eclectic, non-academic approach to the subject of ""literary influence."" And, indeed, this collection of 24 essay-statements does offer an invigorating variety of angles. On the more conventional side, Reynolds Price assesses his ambivalent but indelible responses to Hemingway (""I loved his voice and studied its shapes,"" sharing the preoccupation with ""freedom and virtue""); Robert Coover pays homage to Beckett; Bellow is often mentioned; and Cynthia Ozick, in a finely ironic piece, confesses her love/hate feelings about the legacy of the Master. (""I had become Henry James, and for years and years I remained Henry James."") But, just as Berg presumably hoped, most of the contributors cite influences which are not exactly ""literary,"" with lots of autobiographical material surfacing instead. Max Apple recalls his childhood love-affair with language--growing up happily bilingual (Yiddish, English) in 1950s Grand Rapids. Raymond Carver and Leonard Michaels both emphasize the press of everyday life: wife, dreams, phone-calls, children. (""I'm talking about real influence now. I'm talking about the moon and the ride."") John Hawkes gets specific about the ""personal chronology"" behind Second Skin; Gilbert Sorrentino cites his Italian/Irish background; Tess Gallagher runs the gamut, from the Vietnam War to trees; David Bradley recalls his mixed childhood reactions to religion. There are references to music, art, cartoons. And, in a moving vignette, Grace Paley's 86-year-old father is presented as an on-the-spot influence--in a plea for Grace to ""write a simple story just once more. . . the kind Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write."" There are pompous, self-indulgent entries here; and the choice of voices is odd in many ways, including the male/female ratio (20/4). But it's an engaging, informal gathering overall--with a few essays of lasting charm or interest.