Western Americana and literary history by the Pulitzer-winning novelist. Now 80, Stegner here reviews his life in part, the West as writers have written about it, its landscape and the ever-changing effect of humanity upon it, and so on. Stegner believes that the West is finally coming into its own as a literary entity distinct from what eastern critics have found in it. Even so, he warns, "without a more developed and cohesive society than the West, in its short life and against all the handicaps of revolutionary change and dispersion, has been able to grow--and without a native audience for its native arts--there may come a time in a writer's career when the clutch of the imagination will no longer take hold on the materials that are most one's own." That sentence points up Stegner's strengths and flaws: It digs into his subject of change and fragility both in landscape and citizenry, but does so in a voice more academic than earthy. Ever in search of the loamy detail, one reads through this collection of recent magazine essays and introductions to Stegner's own and others' books and finds less appeal to the senses than the wise overview, rich in itself but not rich in words. The best essay by far is a sigh-heavy memoir of his mother, "Letter, Much Too Late," written some 50 years after her death, with her breath and heartbeat moved into the reader's own chest. Stegner's friendships with writers such as Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Wendell Berry ring with praise, as do his comments on John Steinbeck, Norman Maclean, and George Stewart. And one feels deeply rewarded by Stegner's wisdom about population shifts, the five or six main types of landscape, and his words about conservation, deadly dams, and the death of the desert. Absolutely worthwhile, but highly charged only here and there.