A slight but highly agreeable collection of short non-fiction pieces--travel reports, book reviews, lectures--from the dazzling English novelist. In two disarming miniatures, Gelding explores and appreciates his own Wiltshire neighborhood--where the few genuine country people left find morris dancing ""incomprehensible and funny,"" where pre-history hulks at every turn, where Salisbury Cathedral (though less rich than nearby Winchester) is in all ways superior. . . despite, or because of, its wear and tear. (Some nameless, timeless psychotic--""He cannot see a stone projection without wanting to break it off""--has bashed off all the noses on the church statues.) There are trips along Dutch canals, to Delphi, and above all to Egypt: Gelding, who has been obsessed with Ancient Egypt since childhood (he reprints ""Egypt from My Inside"" from The Hot Gates, 1965), inevitably finds the actual sites a letdown, overshadowed by travel woes (""at least fifty percent of the people who see the pyramids for the first time do so while wondering how long they can hold out against diarrhoea""); moreover, ""I carried the wrong equipment with me--naivetÃ‰, credulity and that kind of monstrous egotism implicit in a man thinking he might see more than others would."" The literary pieces are a shade disappointing--with more charm than heft. Gelding compares a variety of diarists, from Pepys to Johnson to Queen Victoria, focusing on the essential spirituality--or lack of it--involved in the journal-keeping impulse. (Victoria ""expects God, like the rest of her retainers, to deliver a service."") He lectures, with vast irony yet with passion, on the art of the novel: the creation of characters, the place of theme, the storytelling core, the simplicity behind the over-analyzed Lord of the Flies (whose theme is ""grief, sheer grief, grief, grief, grief""). And he surveys Utopian and anti-Utopian fiction, winding up with his own credo: ""We had better decide we are Lamarckian and make it work."" Elegantly plainspoken, unpretentiously erudite bits and pieces from a shrewd fellow--but one who saves his challenging thoughts for his fiction.