"It is our lost fish that I believe stay longest in memory, and
seize upon our thoughts whenever we look back on fishing days."
With these words from FLY FISHING, written in 1899 by Lord Grey of
Fallodon, Howell Raines establishes the tone and metaphor of this
book, a sequel to his bestselling FLY FISHING THROUGH THE MIDLIFE
CRISIS, which came out in 1993.
Experience or interest in fishing is not a prerequisite for
enjoyment of this book. For although a good deal of it is concerned
directly with fishing and is in varying degrees about
fishing, about how to fish and where, and the pleasures of fishing,
much of the book qualifies as reflections on life and adversity.
All of it is so well written as to transcend a reader's preferences
regarding subject matter.
Most of Raines's readers will be content to take his title more or
less literally, as alluding to fish, while acknowledging that the
idea of loss does apply more broadly to the experiences of life.
Actually, his working title is said to have been "Catch and
Release," which perhaps evolved into "The One That Got Away" as the
book was taking shape, perhaps as it developed in ways not fully
foreseen by the author.
Speaking of his dismissal as executive editor of the New York
Times, Raines remarks that he had run enough people off the
paper to know that "going on about whys and what-ifs is tedious and
undignified." So he postpones discussion of the Blair scandal for
almost 250 more pages, finally taking it up in Chapter 37: "Fly
Fishing the Wudacudashuda." Thereafter he devotes a few more pages
to the subject, though probably not enough to satisfy those who had
hoped for a full-scale postmortem, nor too much to put off the
Raines acknowledges that he would have perceived what was going on
with regard to Blair's "errors" had he been reading the corrections
column more closely, but says he "never aspired to be executive
copy editor of the New York Times" and was focusing on the
paper's future on tomorrow's Times and not
In any case, Raines will be remembered in the end not for his
circumstantial presence during Jayson Blair's succession of
reportorial misdeeds, but for his years as national correspondent,
writing pieces so similar in style and tone to most of what one
finds in this deeply enjoyable book.
Reviewed by H.V. Cordry on January 13, 2011