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The English Major

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  2,440 Ratings  ·  478 Reviews
"It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't." With these words, Jim Harrison sends his sixty-something protagonist, divorced and robbed of his farm by a late-blooming real estate shark of an ex-wife, on a road trip across America, armed with a childhood puzzle of the United States and a mission to rename all the states and state birds to overcome the banal names men h
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Grove Press
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Dec 10, 2008 Tony rated it it was amazing
Harrison, Jim. THE ENGLISH MAJOR. (2008). *****. It is likely that one has to be of a certain age to really appreciate this book, but I certainly liked it a lot. Harrison has the ability to bring his characters to life so that you can imagine yourself joining them for a drink at the bar. In this novel, he chronicles the life of Cliff, a sixty-ish farmer from Upper Michigan and one-time English teacher. His wife has just sued him for divorce and won. In the process, he has lost his farm and most ...more
Heaven Yassine
Jun 07, 2016 Heaven Yassine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mes premiers pas avec Jim Harrison ont été extraordinaires, un voyage avec Cliff, un sexagénaire fraîchement divorcé, blessé mais encore plein de vigueur et qui n’a pas l’intention de se laisser abattre, malgré un coup dur porté par son ex-femme : la vente de la ferme familiale du Michigan.
A travers cette odyssée, qui nous fera franchir les frontières de certains états des Etats-Unis, son ancienne vie refait surface de temps à autre, comment se débarrasser de tant d’années à vivre au rythme des
Oct 23, 2008 Lori rated it really liked it
Harrison is like Garrison Keiler, a voice I treasure. Even when he is distressed, there's a warmth and deepness that soothes. Because he writes from a spirit that is pure and heartful. He always draws attention to the small details that we can so easily pass over in life, yet hold all the meaning for our spirit. This is a simple book, an easy read, not much of a plot, and not his greatest, but all in all I still really liked it.
Feb 10, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it
Having struggled through the overly plotted machinations of Gone Girl it was a pleasure to dive into Jim Harrison's shaggy dog story road trip and reflection on late middle age crisis. When you are reading Harrison you cannot help but hope and feel that the fictional characters are proxy!s for the author. Harrison's protagonists are lusty learned men with big appetites for food drink and the beauty of Mother Nature. They all seem like people I want to meet and hang out with. On nearly every page ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Ruth rated it liked it
In the mood for an amusing road novel? This will fill the bill. Poor old Cliff, former English teacher and longtime farmer, at a high school class reunion, his wife of more than 30 years disappeared with a former classmate for hours and reappeared with grass stains on her knees. Bad sign. Soon she’s not only left Cliff for (ahem) greener pastures, but has sold the farm out from under him.

He takes off in his beater with the intent of visiting every state, giving it a new more suitable name, and a
Dec 14, 2008 Janet rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I really loved the author's "Returning to Earth" and when I saw he had a new book out, I jumped on it. And while I saw some similar elements in this story--namely, Michigan and Native American references, I didn't like the main character in the way I liked the last ones. This guy was a dirty old man and made far too many references to his dick. Totally turned me off! And it's too bad, because it's such a lovely premise--divorced older man hits the road to visit each of the United States.
Linda Robinson
Aug 20, 2009 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
"It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't."

Divorced by his wife of 38 years, farm sold out from under him, Cliff drives away from a green valley in Michigan in a 13-year old Taurus with a childhood wooden puzzle map of the United States on the passenger seat.

Satisfying, rich, personal account of coming to age, complete with OnStar, trout fishing, grown kids, renamed States, and as Cliff's friend AD calls it "strip-searching" a life.
Dex Quire
Sep 23, 2012 Dex Quire rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 09, 2009 Greg rated it it was amazing
We're in Nebraska with this maniac former farmer, laughing on every page. Is it because he's 60 and life is just beginning for him?
Dana Stabenow
Oct 10, 2008 Dana Stabenow rated it it was ok
Never read Jim Harrison, bought it for the title. Yes, I am on occasion that superficial.


Okay, finished it. I alternatively giggled and dozed during reading. I don't know if it's Harrison's prose style, which does run on so, or that this is the second book in a month I've read about a 60-year old man on the run from something (the other one was Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga). It's hard to fall in love with a character who is so aimless, I kept wanting to grab him up by the collar
Regina Mclaughlin
Dec 20, 2009 Regina Mclaughlin rated it it was ok
Festooned with guffaws and lousy with homely truths, the novel's first-person narration irritated me with its self-indulgence.

Oh it starts out promisingly enough with Cliff, a numb, over-the-hill farmer,talking out his troubles. Poor guy's split with his wife, his dog's dead, the farm's been sold. Worse still, his penis has become, uh, an unreliable friend. GONGGG!!! Yes boys and girls, it's time to take to the road. And we know what that means to English majors: a trip into one's own head. A lo
Dec 12, 2008 Paul rated it really liked it
On the surface this is a travel novel. The narrator, Cliff, who has lost his farm and his wife in a divorce, hits the road to restore himself. He travels through the western U.S. on a mission to rename the birds and states of America. But his real journey is the one in his mind as he contemplates his past life and what makes life worth living. In the hands of the author Jim Harrison, this mind journey is made at 90 miles an hour while negotiating a thousand curves in the road making this novel a ...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
You don't need to be an English major to enjoy this book, but it certainly adds to the fun since many different authors and their works are mentioned. But you will need an appreciation for salacious humor (laugh out loud funny, at times, but might be a little too ribald for some), a love of nature, and the ability to commiserate with a 60 year-old man on a road trip through the western states (he starts in Michigan) as he copes with divorce and the loss of his dog and his farm. Oh, and there's h ...more
Sep 02, 2015 Hmcellistrem rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed the protagonist's, Cliff, self-deprecating perspectives. He reminded me of a shaggy dog, a bit messy, but endearing. After finding himself without his faithful dog (RIP Lola), without his unfaithful wife and without his farm, he takes a road trip throughout the states. It's a great introspective journey filled with rekindled desires, self-awareness and intermittent fulfillment.
"I consoled myself with the idea that there was freedom in having this large portion of your past
Nov 16, 2016 Anne VALENTIN rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un très beau roman mettant en scène un sexagénaire ayant sa vie à reconstruire. Des désirs simples et authentiques, un soupçon de folie... une belle odyssée !
Jul 31, 2012 Beth rated it really liked it
I'm a huge Jim Harrison fan - this one was nicely done and amusing. Not his best but still enjoyable.
Jun 08, 2017 Theresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
3.5. A new look into the late middle-age male psyche, with some odd-ball funny moments along with some painful truths.
Stephen Durrant
Oct 17, 2009 Stephen Durrant rated it liked it
Jim Harrison's latest novel is difficult for me to rate. It is a quick and enjoyable read. The book follows many of the formulas we western American males "of a certain age" embrace, albeit somewhat apologetically (at least in Eugene, Oregon). A sixty-year-old man gets divorced and decides that he will hit the road, traveling from state to state. Oh yes, to add to the angst his dog has just died (I'm not kidding). He has several projects: renaming each state with the name of an Indian tribe that ...more
Jim Nail
May 12, 2016 Jim Nail rated it it was ok
This is the second Harrison novel I've read, the first being Dalva. They say he writes with varying styles and themes so I'll probably read a few more. They also say he never re-writes, which I could believe, based on the relaxed, conversational style of the writing, and the numerous clumsy, underdeveloped sentences. Here, his narrator, Cliff, is a weak-willed, unprincipled old man, a slave to his sexual appetite, disrespectful toward women and for that reason, chosing women who will cause him a ...more
Jun 04, 2011 Mark rated it liked it
“It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn’t.” These are the opening words, our introduction to Cliff. He’s 60, a former teacher, currently a farmer and now quite alone, after his wife leaves him, for a high school sweetheart.
Cliff needs to escape, after sinking into a prolonged funk. He decides a long road trip is in order. Armed with a kid’s puzzle of the United States, flicking the piece of each state out the window, after crossing the next border, Cliff begins his adventure.
This is a fun
Apr 24, 2014 Jeremy rated it it was ok
What a load of self indulgent male fantasy rubbish. Ok so I stupidly thought I was going to read about an English Major (military) as he traveled across the United States. I thought I might be reading a book with a loose story and lots of detail about many of the 50 states. Wrong. The English Major is an academic major in English (yawn) and the travel across the states was a rouse the author quickly forgot he was writing about.

This is a book about a 60 something who has a life changing event whi
Dec 02, 2013 Kkraemer rated it liked it
My generation learned that one way to the self is through travel when we read Catcher in the Rye. Then, we read On the Road, and, later, Travels with Charley. Now part of the "new middle aged" group in their 60's, Jim Harrison provides us with The English Major.

Cliff's wife got bored and ran off with a guy from their reunion. The farm fails. The son is on his own, living far away. The dog dies. Cliff does what our generation does: he hits the road, traveling from Michigan west. He lives with all
PickItUp Lessard
Apr 28, 2016 PickItUp Lessard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un ancien enseignant américain sexagénaire, poète solitaire à ses heures, devenu cultivateur par la force des choses, se fait plaquer par sa femme à soixante ans. En pleine dépression/mélancolie, il décide alors de faire le tour des Etats Unis et de renommer les 50 états ainsi que leurs animaux associés... Lors de cette aventure, il fait la rencontre d'une de ses anciennes élèves, trentenaire, totalement délurée qui va réveiller en lui le vieux lubrique ...

J'ai eu plaisir à parcourir cette oeuvr
Dicky Dahl
Dec 01, 2011 Dicky Dahl rated it liked it
I kind of coasted along with this book, along with the narrator's road trip, enjoying the ride ok but not feeling very invested in old Cliff's journey and tiring at times with the repetition of stubborn sentiments he expresses, the countless remembrances of his old dead dog and then especially with his growing obsession with the pretty lame goal of re-naming all the states and many of the birds of north america. But I still liked Cliff, there are plenty of one-liner nuggets along the way, and by ...more
Jon Spoelstra
Dec 19, 2009 Jon Spoelstra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: quirky
I listened to this book on MP3 while I walked. Some people saw me chuckling as I walked down the street. This is, indeed, a strange book. But, a fun read for geezers. Here's Cliff, a 60-year-old former Michigan high school teacher, who lost his farm (a dirty deal) and his wife (she got wooed at her high school reunion) and his dog (way too old.) He sets off on a yearlong, countrywide jag. You have to accompany Cliff on this jag. Harrison is consistently witty and engaging as he drives home his t ...more
Jan 30, 2009 Tom rated it really liked it
This is a tale about a former farmer/teacher who retires at age 60 after his wife divorces him and sells out the from underneath him. He decides to get in his car and visit each of the fifty states. He does 15 and returns home.

Makes one wonder about ones own life. Looking back, what did I achieve? what impact did I make? Did I make more than or at least 30% of my goal? What do I do now?

The story is entertaining with some humor, but from one as old as I (66), it is also disturbing.

At least a 3 d
Dec 18, 2009 Brenda rated it liked it
From the book:

"Rivers make my favorite sound. If I had brought along my rowboat I could have escaped the confusion because when you row you tend to think about nothing except the river floating off behind you. Staring at the river I began to wonder what we are when we are alone. Maybe we don't count for much unless we are rubbing against others."
Dave Biggus
Feb 21, 2016 Dave Biggus rated it really liked it
I loved this book. A trek across some western states with memories, whiskey and no plans for a 60 year old recently divorced dude, Cliff. Some down-to-earth characters along the way. Why not give it five stars? I don't thing he wrote for five, it's too casual and conversant. He wrote for four. And to my mind got all of those. A bit on the salty side for those not so inclined!
Dec 10, 2016 Jennifer rated it did not like it
I thought this book was crude. I didn't get very far. I liked the idea upon which it was based -- the protagonist's quest to visit all 50 states after his wife leaves him, his dog dies, and he loses his farm. But the language was offensive, the descriptions crude and the more I got to know the protagonist, the less I liked him. Why go on reading? I didn't.
Jul 28, 2012 Bradford rated it really liked it
Quotable aphorisms and asides on nearly every page elevate this gentle story of self-discovery and renewal told by a laconic, post-divorce, ex-farmer, ex-teacher, unreliable narrator gone walkabout in the American west.
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Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants
More about Jim Harrison...

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“Dad said I would always be "high minded and low waged" from reading too much Ralph Waldo Emerson. Maybe he was right.” 33 likes
“As an English major I was familiar with the stories of dozens of writers trying to get their work done among the multifarious diversions of the world and the hurdles of their own vices. A professor had said that what saved writers is that they, like politicians, had the illusion of destiny that allowed them to overcome obstacles no matter how nominal their work.” 6 likes
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