It’s been two years since Dean Baquet vaulted over Jill Abramson to claim the top editorial job, but the prospect of deeper change is still stirring at the 164-year-old Times. With longtime publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. seeking a successor, Baquet’s would-be replacements already jockeying for position, and drastic cuts looking all but inevitable,
The idea took hold a few months ago. It’s hard to say exactly what sparked it other than … well, have you ever been the parent of a 14-year-old girl? It is a daunting experience. Elizabeth is a good person. She’s a good student. She has a huge heart. She’s a loyal friend. She’s funny too. She likes Death Cab and Spinal Tap and comic books and reading. The other day, she told me that her favorite movie of all time is “The Godfather.” I mean, she is more me than I am.
But she is 14, and in some ways that explains everything. In some ways it doesn’t. There are times I feel closer to her than ever … and times I feel so much further away. Farther away? Further away? One gorgeous day in autumn, I was sitting on the porch, working, and she came outside and sat next to me, and it became clear after a few choice words about tattoos and nose rings and such that she had come out for the sole purpose of starting a fight. There was no specific reason for it other than she’s 14, and I’m her father, and this is the timeless story.
There have been other things, trying things, unforeseen things, a punishing year, and one day I came up with this idea. I would take Elizabeth to see “Hamilton.”
My earliest memory of books is not of reading but of being read to. I spent hours listening, watching the face of the person reading aloud to me. Sometimes I rested my head on the chest or the stomach of the reader and could feel the resonance of each vowel and consonant. I encountered many books this way: “One Thousand and One Nights”; the mischievous and brilliant writings of al-Jahiz; the poetry of Ahmed Shawqi and his peers from the period of al-Nahda, the Arabic literary renaissance that took place at the turn of the twentieth century; several books on the lives of the Sahabah; and the works of a long line of historians who tried to explain how and why a war or an epoch had started or ended. It never occurred to me then to question why there were hardly any books for children in the house; none that I can remember, anyway.
In retrospect, maybe I placed too much significance on that first trip alone after my son was born. For the first year of his life I had barely spent a single night away from him, so it was only natural that I saw this trip as a precious chance to be, however briefly, a sane adult again. The trip was only for one night to a not-very-glamorous city where I would stay in a not-very-glamorous hotel and deliver a talk in the evening. The place itself did not matter — it could have been anywhere. Instead, it was the promise of travel, of not being home and on duty that seduced me.