Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Lists, numbers, rankings, and ratings all fascinate me.
I have watched and tallied and compared for as long as I can remember. It doesn't really matter what. The important point is that I can assign a number to an item, and use that number to compare one item to another.
All of that is just prelude. What I really want to talk about here is my dismay at this past Sunday's bestseller list in The New York Times Book Review. I have watched this list for years, and last year became particularly interested in the relative rankings of books by "liberal" authors vs. those by "conservative" ones. Richard Clarke, Thomas Frank, Jon Stewart vs. Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and those horrible Swift Boat Veterans. I used the best-seller list as a substitute for polls. If Clarke and Frank were winning, I reasoned, so would Kerry (at least in New York City, huh?)
Since the election, the list has not been quite so interesting. I've noted that Shoots, Eats and Leaves has had a surprising (to me) run near the top. I enjoyed seeing the success of Stewart's America (The Book). But this week I was disheartened to see that the top spot on the non-fiction list has gone to a book called Witness, by trial-of-the-year-other-woman Amber Frey.
I haven't read this book, although I skimmed an excerpt in People magazine.
But it disturbed me that a book by a tabloid-level celebrity about her role in a tabloid-level crime would top the list of fact-based works being read in this country. The fact that the top-15 list is framed by a tell-all memoir by Tatum O'Neal is just icing on the cake.
What possible fascination does Amber Frey have. Okay, she was lied to by a now-convicted murdere with whom she was having an affair. So? What is she? A sympathetic character? Someone about whom women of a certain age and class can say, "There but for fortune go I?"
The worst thing about Amber Frey being on the best-seller list is that when I think about it, my opinion of Americans and of women goes down.
There are a lot of books being written these days. Many of them are quite good. Most people I know have less time for reading than they would like. So why are people wasting their time on this tripe?