Portraits 9 / 11 / 01: The Collected "Portraits of...

Editor's Choice

April 28, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Portraits 9 / 11 / 01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times, foreword by Howell Raines and introduction by Janny Scott (Times Books, 688 pages, $30).

The last publication in which most readers would have expected to find an exquisiteness of microjournalism is The Times. Yet day after day from shortly after the World Trade Center horror for 14 weeks and then episodically afterward, there were one or two full pages of tiny pieces about victims. For some people I know, the miniature obituaries became a compulsion -- they literally could not get through the day without reading some or all of them. I don't weep casually or easily, yet hardly a day went by on which I read from those pages that I did not have to stop to wipe tears from my face. Now comes a collection of the first 1,910 of those pieces to be published. It is a paragon of democracy; the subjects range from the rich and famous to dishwashers and window cleaners. In all, 143 staffers reported and wrote them, including some of the paper's most senior correspondents and youngest local reporters. Raines, executive editor of the paper, writes, "when I read them, I am filled with an awareness of the subtle nobility of everyday existence." Janny Scott, a splendid Times staff writer, describes the process, in which she was deeply involved: "What we wanted were stories, anecdotes, tiny but telling details that seemed to reveal something true and essential about how each person lived." They do -- tiny tales that seem cut and polished, often to a diamond's near perfection.

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