For certain elite readers, the best seller is valuable primarily as a means of calibrating literary taste: We know what is good in part by knowing what is bad. But the sheer ubiquity of the best seller makes it impossible to disregard so easily. If some books are good (read: literary) because they don't sell, others are just as likely to be judged good (read: entertaining) because they do. "If I'm a lousy writer, then a hell of a lot of people have got lousy taste," Metalious once said.
In 1955 "Rock Around the Clock" went to the top of the charts and turned Bill Haley into the king of rock and roll. Twenty-five years later, he was holed up in a pool house in Harlingen, drunk, lonely, paranoid, and dying. After three decades of silence, his widow and his children tell the story of his years in Texas and his sad final days.
If you don't live near any of the restaurants honored in last week's James Beard Awards, at least you can still read the great stories nominated in the journalism categories.
There are worse places to be stuck in traffic than midtown Manhattan, worse people to be stuck with than Philip Roth.