I read the Sunday New York Times this week and found a few interesting items in it. What follows, of course, will not be news for those who plow through the Times every Sunday, starting out at the newsstand itself, thumbing through each section just to make sure there’s nothing missing. It won’t be news for those who scan the Book Review to see which of their neighbors got a review — hey, there’s a write-up of Johnny McPhee’s new book on shad and daughter Jenny’s novel, "The Center of Things," gets a mention in the noteworthy column next to the paperback bestseller list. My little piece won’t mean much to those who romp through the "women’s sports pages" (weddings and engagements to the rest of you), sifting through the pedigrees of those who made the cut.
No, this column won’t mean much to dedicated readers of the Sunday New York Times. But it’s not for them: it’s for people like me, and maybe even you — people who long ago gave up even trying to read the Sunday Times. For me it was a slow decline. In the beginning I turned every page of every section as if it were required reading in a freshman literature course. Eventually I began to discard sections that I probably would not read (Automotive was the first to go). Then I started separating out the sections that I would read, or hoped to read (the Magazine was always in that short pile, along with Business and even the New Jersey section).
Then the day came: The paper was purchased and set aside as another busy Sunday came and went. Soon thereafter I was staring at not one but two and sometimes three weeks’ worth of virgin Sunday Times’s.
That was maybe a decade ago. I have kept up a little with the daily New York Times — that gets delivered to the office. But I have had no idea what the Sunday editors were doing. Then this Sunday, December 8, a friend stopped by for a cup of coffee — and left behind a complete Sunday Times.
For all the rest of you who have turned your back on this woolly mammoth of American journalism, I decided to get back on the beast, and see what we all have been missing. First the good news — the sports section is still just as weak as it was a decade ago — if you haven’t been reading the Sunday Times you haven’t missed much there, I suspect. The Week in Review seems about the same as well.
Money & Business, even with the separate Job Market section, seems less substantial than I recall it — though this may be the result of the current recession and the corresponding drop in advertising for business publications. If I had to pick one or the other, I would settle for the business sections in the five weekday papers.
On the other hand, the Sunday Times has grown in several ways. Those color presses are screaming on Saturday night at the Times printing plant. For me the most vivid impression of the color was in the Arts & Leisure section, not in the editorial columns but in the full page ads.
Those weddings and engagements, which I recall being tucked at the end of the regular news section 10 years ago, used to tell you the players: "Katherine Cody Westerbeck and Jacob Matthew Lewis, magazine editors, were married yesterday," the December 8 issue reported. An Amherst alumna, she is the managing editor of Self magazine. He’s only UC Santa Cruz, but is being promoted to managing editor of the New Yorker on January 1. Impressive.
That’s the score, but now the Times gives you the feel of the action in the trenches. After an initial face-to-face meeting that "was a bust, romantically speaking," this lucky couple stayed in touch as friends for a few years. Then, the Sunday Times declared, "during a trip they took together to Los Angeles in November, 1997, they crossed the Rubicon to romance."
One section that seemed remarkably unchanged in the past decade is the Book Review. I was at first dismayed at the high proportion of books mentioned that were written by New York Times reporters, but that was before I read the "Rubicon to romance" item above. Nevertheless I spent more time reading the Book Review than I did any other section.
And I actually jotted down a few titles that I might seek out the next time I drop in at Micawber Books. There was a correction to a review of a book on the Wright brothers, and I thought my boy Frank might enjoy it — he was writing about the Viking mission to Mars for a third grade class and the conversation turned to the first flight in 1903. A notable holiday book for children was "Emily Dickinson’s Letters to the World" — my boy Rick just dissected a Dickinson poem for his fifth grade class.
And then there was a reference to "July, July," a novel by Tim O’Brien about a 30th reunion of a college class of 1969. My class, I thought, and maybe in this instance I have changed more than the Times. Maybe I could make time to read a book for myself.
But I looked around, pondered the clutter, and imagined that book taking a place on the floor where a Sunday New York Times was once buried. I needed to think about it.