The last time we looked, there were only seven of them -- at least, that's how many Aquinas enumerated in Summa Theologica, and Ian Fleming included the same number in a 1962 Sunday Times of London series that featured seven English writers discussing their preferred sins. But when the New York Times Book Review decided to emulate Fleming in the summer of 1993, Joyce Carol Oates argued for the inclusion of Despair, and the editors agreed. It's perhaps not such a coup to get the famously prolific Oates as a contributor, but the Times also managed to snag the reclusive Thomas Pynchon, whose essay on Sloth is the collection's funniest piece. Mary Gordon and John Updike take a higher-toned approach in their respective essays on Anger and Lust, and Gore Vidal, though characteristically acerbic about Pride, is somewhat less witty than usual. Richard Howard on Avarice (in a poem), A.S. Byatt on (and on and on and on) Envy, and William Trevor on Gluttony round out the list.