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.

i guess i would most like to be a cockroach not any cockroach but archy whose best friends are a newspaperman and a cat what better friends can any one have

within archy s cockroach body is the transmigrated soul of a vers libre bard archy knows the anguish of a writer he hurls himself at the typewriter keys one by one slowly and painfully and falls to the floor exhausted he cannot work the shift key for capital letters and punctuation which allows him to express himself freely let editors worry about such technical details

archy lives in the best of times for poet-pests and newspaper writers it is 1916 and into the 20s and early 30s those heady days when his boss don marquis was writing for the new york sun and franklin p adams was in the conning tower at the world and newspaper columnists were poets and essayists and wrote such books as the lives and times of archy and mehitabel

archy s friend mehitabel the alley cat is a bawdy free roaming spirit who turns up with tattered ears or a new litter to sing rakishly toujours gai wotthehell there s a dance in the old dame yet

you need friends like that when like archy you often see things from the under side

he sees the foolishness of the toad who thinks the earth exists to grow toadstools for him to sit under

archy asks why the moth throws himself into a flame and doesn t think it is worth an instant of beauty but ruefully adds

but at the same time i wish

there was something i wanted

as badly as he wanted to fry himself

archy is funny sad tender tough often indignant sometimes troubling irreverent may his poet s soul transmigrate to the body of a mystery reviewer