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John Wilson


I Read the Times Today

Wendy, my wife, is trying—again—to persuade me to stop subscribing to the New York Times. ("We could pick up the Sunday paper every week at Starbucks," she says.) I know that she is mostly thinking of me. She is sure I am suffering from information overload. But also to preserve her own sanity and the harmony of our long union she'd like to reduce, even just a little, the flow of printed matter into our home. Quite apart from what's going into my head, there's too much wordstuff, books and magazines and journals and newspapers, always threatening to colonize another flat surface.

You may be thinking that there's a very satisfactory compromise ready at hand: the Times on the web. I do go to the website a number of times in the course of a week, for one reason or another, but, much as I value that resource, it's no substitute for holding the paper in my hands. The Times and the Chicago Tribune arrive each day in their blue plastic wrappers as surely as the sun rises. When a good friend and fellow editor told me recently that he'd stopped reading the Times, fed up with the smugness and moral vacuity of the paper's party line, I was stunned. It was a little like hearing that a friend has sold or given away his possessions and gone to live among the poor.

Of course I understand his exasperation. Perhaps he was afraid that reading the Times was tempting him on a daily basis to feel morally superior. That's certainly a hazard one must reckon with. Consider this headline from the Tuesday Science section (Nov. 29): "A Pair of Wings Took Evolving Insects on Nonstop Flight to Domination." Can't you hear that intoned in the slightly menacing voice of a pbs narrator? The article, by the well-known science writer Carl Zimmer (and illustrated with superb photos), lives up to the headline. Here's my favorite paragraph:

And insects are also ecologically essential. If all humans decided to leave for Mars, taking all vertebrates with them, the disruption of life on Earth would ...

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