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Fishing Therapy

Controversial former editor Howell Raines discusses his new book and life after The New York Times.

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Style: This is your second memoir that involves fishing. Why has that been such a sturdy topic for you?

Raines: Perhaps because it's one I care about, and also I think people are interested in fishing, not just for the sport itself but in the broader literary tradition, fishing is a metaphor for life.



In the book you say you fantasized about leaving journalism and writing a novel. Why did you decide on a memoir instead?

The material and the experience were fresh, and I wanted to see if I could deal with it in a thoughtful way. The novel I want to write is a large canvas Civil War novel with lots of characters and lots of action, and I still have lots of research to do.



What scenes in the memoir were hardest for you to resurrect?

None of them really. All books are labors of love, some with the emphasis on labor. This book was fun to write. I probably enjoyed most the childhood chapters, revisiting the places we loved early in life. It's factual, but it's your own experience. You have only to turn inward in an honest way to get your story.



You talk about your concerns for the future of journalism in your book. What is your vision?

I think the good map for the future is the traditional intellectual contract between mainstream papers and the reader: The paper will tell you everything we can find out as soon as we can find out within the bounds of good taste, law and appropriate timeliness .… The paper has to be committed to telling factual truth without bias of any kind — including political bias — and the reader needs to know from experience that they can be trusted.



But in your book you say you admire editors who added "lifestyle" sections like sports and fashion, and that you want the Times to be more readable.

Storytelling is as old as humanity. Particularly as people are getting smarter and more sophisticated, more worldly, as Americans are year by year. [So] the storytelling has to keep up with them.



Do you think Americans are getting smarter?

When you talk about newspapers you're not talking about everyone. You're talking about people who want to read and are drawn to literate and analytical writing, and I think that number is growing. If you look at the number of people that have bachelors of arts [degrees], that number is increasing dramatically. We've all heard the horror stories about schools turning out people who can't read and write, but I think in the broad scheme we are smarter — because of education and because of communications, everything from the printed page to the Internet.… Maybe smarter is the wrong word because it suggests native intelligence which has always been there, but I do think we're exposed to a broader range of information.



Since you left there's been a book written and public statements made that must have been painful for you to read and hear. How have you dealt with that?

By not paying terribly close attention — and the reason is not to avoid pain or not to avoid views you may not like. You have to live in the mental world of that book. You've only got space in your mind to think so many thoughts, and a book is all- consuming. Forgiveness frees your mind from running over history that can't be changed and allows you to move forward. So in my case, I was there; I lived through that experience and exercised the professional standards I have all my life; and I don't really need to read other accounts. S



Author Lineup

Howell Raines will be in town to speak at the 61st Junior League Book and Author Dinner. He'll be joined by five other authors — including television journalist Carole Radziwill, whose recent memoir, "What Remains," details her tangled family life and the death of her husband.

Debra Dean's debut novel, "The Madonnas of Leningrad," tells the story of an art docent who survived the siege of Leningrad and her battle with memory loss. Local author Emyl Jenkins who worked as an antiques appraiser has written the first in a series of antiquing mysteries, "Stealing With Style." Home and entertainment columnist Jennifer Rubell will be on hand with her new book, "Real Life Entertaining," and Luis Alberto Urrea, past winner of the American Book Award, will be there with his new novel, "The Hummingbird's Daughter."

The event will be held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center May 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $60. For more information call 643-4886 or visit www.jlrichmond.org. — A.B.

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