IT WAS AN invitation no book reviewer could refuse. Several weeks ago, well in advance of the pre-Christmas turmoil, I and a dozen other regular reviewers of fiction for Book World received an invitation to participate in a holiday symposium on this tantalizing question: "Which character in fiction would you most like to be, and why?"

Not in the least surprisingly, none of those offered the chance to participate in this novel seminar declined to do so. For some, as you can see from the pieces below, the choice was easy; for others it was difficult, torn as they were among a number of characters who had managed to work their way into their hearts.

IDENTIFYING with fictional heroes can be a risky business; I can never complain of a holiday hangover without recalling all those John Cheever stories which begin there and end three pages later with the hero's children suffering for their parents' excesses. I am tempted therefore to choose lofty models -- creatively I might like to be Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, from Nabokov's The Gift, a struggling young poet of great intellect, honesty, and promise; spiritually I should like to be Ebenezer LePage, from C.D. Edwards' book, for I admire that character's sense of poise, his unity and purpose, as well as his attachment to an arcane and out-moded culture.

Alas, we book reviewers must face what is, not what might or should be. If I am to be a character, then life must be a book; the best representation I know for life is I.B. Singer's village of Chelm, where living offers too much of water and too little of sour cream. Singer's Chelm has many sage Elders -- Dopey Lekisch, Feyvel Thickwit, Shmendrick Numskull -- but only Gronam Ox had the wit to cure this problem forever. Let me be like Gronam, wise enough to call sour cream water and water sour cream, and so turn poverty into plenty!