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The One That Got Away: A Memoirby Howell Raines
Synopses & Reviews
"Lost fish," writes Howell Raines, "chasten us to the knowledge that we are all, in each and every moment, dwindling. Imagine my surprise when I discovered well into my sixth decade that losing fish can prepare us for a blessing as well as for pain."
Confronting loss — of an elusive fish or something larger — is at the heart of "The One That Got Away, " the graceful sequel to Raines's much-loved, bestselling memoir "Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, " published to great acclaim in 1993. With the same winning combination of reminiscences, anecdotes, philosophy and fishing lore, his bold new memoir covers the eventful years in this latest passage of his life, and the realization that in relinquishing his former identity as a newspaperman he has actually gotten what he wanted, just in the most unlikely way.
In wry and witty prose, Raines shifts between fishing vignettes and personal reflections on his childhood, his second marriage, his relationships with his two sons, the trajectory of his career at "The New York Times" and his move toward old age. At the center of his narrative is his most thrilling fishing adventure — an epic battle with a marlin he hooked and fought for more than seven hours in the South Pacific — which comes to symbolize his growing understanding and acceptance of the unpredictability of luck, love, lies and life, and how the unexpected can, in fact, be an opportunity to make life more interesting.
Raines's wonderful descriptions of streams, people and fish; his passion for angling and writing; and his wise and perceptive commentary on the vagaries of his own life combine to create a profound book — one of undeniable appeal and uncommon heart.
"It's easy to guess which 'big one' got away from Howell Raines. The former executive editor of the New York Times tumbled from his lofty perch three years ago amid great commotion, in part the victim of his own insistence on candid coverage of a scandal at the newspaper. Jayson Blair, a young Times reporter promoted too far too fast, was found to have stolen stories from a former colleague... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and then lied to his editors about it. When Raines heard the news he rushed back to New York from his Pennsylvania country house and discovered that an internal inquiry then in progress promised one of those wan editorial 'corrections' he despises. He nixed it and appointed an independent team to cover the Times' embarrassment as it would be covered if it threatened any other public institution. The resulting front-page story of some 7,300 words blamed Raines and his managing editor for inattentiveness to previous complaints about Blair's reporting. When Raines read the story — for the first time and in the paper — he sensed that his editorship was imperiled. But he soon reminded himself that Carl Jung had once congratulated a patient on losing his job, since now the patient could begin living. On that theme, Raines goes on a roll: 'Before I die, I want my slice of adventure pie. ... I say to you that America would be a happier, healthier, saner nation if more men felt they were breaking even in the pleasure department. ... Men need what they always have needed — more toys and more time to play with them.' His toys are fishing tackle, the costlier the better, and he now has time to play with them. 'The One That Got Away' tells more fishing than newspaper stories; but fishing, with its thrills and sorrows, has been a familiar metaphor for life issues since at least Izaak Walton's day. Raines traces his own fascination with its larger resonances to the day when his childhood caregiver, of whom he has written fondly elsewhere, read him Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea,' from the Sept. 1, 1952, issue of Life. He was then 9; when he recently spotted an old copy of that issue on a New York newsstand, he shelled out $23 for it. But could a 300-page fish story, a sort of journalist's 'Moby-Dick,' engage a reviewer and enthusiast of other sports whose fishing life may have stopped at the cork-and-sinker stage? The answer is yes. Raines is a superb writer of narrative. An Alabamian, he is of that tribe of writers rooted in the Southern uplands who realized at an early age that they had to write but were forced to eat the meager bread of newspaper journalism to do so. For all its worthiness, there is always some regret over that fate, and Raines feels it. On the evidence here, everyday that Howell Raines was not writing stories was a day misspent — none more so, perhaps, than in his run as editorial page editor of the Times: days of solemn, forgettable stridulation. As a storyteller, he writes a natural English flavored with the idiom and King James cadences of his Southern boyhood. Accordingly, his fish stories are not only credible but also engaging. Raines does mix among the fishing stories his candid observations about the Times and newspaper journalism generally, along with juicy cracks at political targets of opportunity. He thought the Times had the potential to be finer than it was if it could escape from the weight of a stodgy and self-satisfied institutional past. And his caustic quarrel with our two most recent presidents continues, briefly. He is no fan of the Bush family, of whose 'dazzling commonness' he writes: 'If generations of wealth and education in the best schools cannot produce a smidgen of nobility in a family, what's the point? ... The younger Bush and his minions meet a needful world with a combination of Eastern snobbery and Texas brutality.' But the heart of Raines' story fortunately lies in the chronicles of angling — not least the story of the gorgeous blue marlin he played for seven hours in the tropical waters off Christmas Island, an emblematic contest of man with nature. Few memoirs are so splendidly articulated. Randall Jarrell, a critic of needlepoint perceptions, once said of a book he liked that it was tempting to dispense with reviewing and simply walk through it, pointing. The craftsmanship rendered even praise a clumsy interference. Here again is such a book." Reviewed by Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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With literary grace, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis" returns with a wry, witty, new memoir on life, career, remarriage, and, of course, fishing.
About the Author
Howell Raines is a Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran journalist and former executive editor of The New York Times. The author of three previous books, he was born and began his career in Alabama. He now lives with his wife, Krystyna, in Pennsylvania.
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