Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The World's Oldest Story Becomes Serious News

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The World's Oldest Story Becomes Serious News

Article excerpt

Several times a year, The New Yorker publishes a special issue devoted to a single subject. Topics range widely, including everything from culture, business, and fashion to money and music.

Now, in a double issue dated Aug. 18 & 25, the editors have branched out into the intriguing sphere of domestic relations. The Family Issue, they call it.

Although a special issue a year ago dealt with the family in fiction, this current spotlight focuses on what long-time staff writer Roger Angell calls "a mixture of memoir and reporting about families." Even poetry, cartoons, and reviews explore the messy complexities, the strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows of those joined by blood ties and marriage vows.

Five or 10 years ago, the prospect of a whole issue on The Family might well have struck New Yorker editors as being too soft, too sentimental for the magazine's urbane readers. Yet there is nothing sentimental about the approach here.

The issue includes a sobering piece on the economics of child- rearing. Katharine Boo reports on efforts to promote marriage among single mothers living in public-housing projects in Oklahoma City. David Sefaris offers an essay about a young man's unsettling friendship with a 9-year-old girl, with their two mothers as stage- left figures.

A mother recounts her young daughter's sudden illness during a family vacation on Cape Cod. And reviews critique a new movie, "Le Divorce," and books considering the question, Who discovered childhood?

This special issue serves as the latest example of the extent to which the American family - nuclear, extended, blended - now ranks as a mainstream subject, worthy of attention in even the most sophisticated publications.

What a change from earlier decades! Until the early 1970s, newspapers typically relegated coverage of the family to what journalists call the back of the book - the feature pages. News editors didn't quite say family stories were fluff, but they definitely didn't regard them as important enough to appear in the front of the paper, where the "real" news, the "hard" news went.

Times - and attitudes - change. …

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