The New Yorker frequently publishes special themed issues these days - fashion, money, fall books, etc. I suppose such issues are seen as an enticement to sell ads. The special issues are usually well-done, with interesting pieces. Yet the increasing number of themed issues represents the rise of advertising values over the wide-ranging journalism that used to distinguish the magazine.
I'm somewhat interested about money and business, less so about fashion. Although I might not want to read several articles about a particular field, I'm now often subjected to such a limited menu. The magazine once offered variety and a sense of discovery, rather than covering the same subjects already written about in other publications.
In an effort to not appear too commercially driven, the New Yorker never prints the theme on the cover. Instead, the artist's cover illustration subtly conveys the message. The reader might not realize he's perusing a special issue until he comes to the Table of Contents, which does run a special issue's title, such as this week's "The Food Issue."
I groaned at the arrival of yet another special issue. My appetite for food articles is not nearly as hearty as my appetite for crab cakes or barbecue brisket. Instead of a selection of pieces about different subjects, I'm given a surfeit of food writing. It's like a restaurant selling nothing but pancakes.
At least the food issue marks the return of Calvin Trillin, who wrote a piece on North Carolina barbecue. Trillin, among those writers who've defined the magazine, rarely appears these days. He's best known for his reports on food, but through the years he's written many other memorable pieces, including the moving memoir about the death of his wife, Alice, and his recollections about growing up in Kansas City and moving to New York.
With the Mets playing the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, I'd like to hear Trillin's thoughts on the matchup.Trillin with his wry humor and eye for detail could put the baseball matchup in the broader context of the two cities' cultures.
Meanwhile, the World Series prompted The New York Times to ask some of its news writers to give predictions about which team will win. This resulted in several overwritten imaginative flights, but overall the pieces were entertaining.
The best was by Joe Drape, my former Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleague who has made his name at the Times covering horse racing. Drape, also a Kansas City native, came off the best by not focusing on baseball. Instead, in musing about making bets on the series with his colleagues, he wittily champions Kansas City's native cuisine as superior to New York's.
The pieces today continue a creative resurgence for the Times sports department. That imaginative spirit was shown after the Mets swept the Cubs in the National League Championship Series. Times writer Dan Barry, in light of the fact that the Cubs haven't won a championship since 1908, wrote about the deciding game in the florid style of early 20th century sportswriting. The piece tried too hard to match the old-time purple prose, but Barry, who donned the byline D. Francis Barry, still smote a couple of four-baggers.
"The ignominious rout of the valiant but overmatched hometown squad turned the deafening cheers of the Chicago multitudes into plaintive keens, for now their agonizing wait for another championship — the last in 1908, during the presidency of the rough-riding Theodore Roosevelt — must continue," Barry opined in the article that sported the great headline, “Cubs’ Dreams Dashed in Loss To Metropolitans; Prayers Of Wrigley Faithful Go Unanswered."
I thought the Cubs would at last overcome the goat's curse this year. The ghost of Fred Merkle must have haunted the Chicago nine in revenge for the 1908 loss that gave the Cubs the pennant over the New York Giants. A historical recounting of Merkle's infamous base-running blunder that led to the Giants losing the pennant to the Cubs was another recent Times jewel.