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The English Major

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  1,859 ratings  ·  396 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 ...more
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Grove Press
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Books set in Michigan
54th out of 252 books — 80 voters
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New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2008
61st out of 100 books — 25 voters

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Community Reviews

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Lori (Hellian)
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.
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
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
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.
Dex Quire
What happened to Jim Harrison? All his novels and novellas after Dalva dissolve into middle aged men who like to nip the bottle, sit in country cafes and lust after waitresses, get nostalgic for divorced wives, mistresses, daughters travel to the southwest fish and eat brook trout remember dogs, expensive meals, wines, church services of their youth and Lutheran pastors who get drunk; middle aged men who look nudie magazines, porn flicks, flirt with pretty waitresses, get involved with pretty wa ...more
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
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
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
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
Linda Robinson
"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.
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
I'm a huge Jim Harrison fan - this one was nicely done and amusing. Not his best but still enjoyable.
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
“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
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
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
Jon Spoelstra
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
Dicky Dahl
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
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
Pierced Librarian
p. 14 The world is a wobbly place, so is the mind.
p. 21 She was what you would call an off brand peach, real pretty to some tastes but a little exotic to the local boys.
p.38 My mom used to say that Dad had mental problems but before she died she admitted that Dad just had too much life in him for one body.
p.63 Staring at the river I began to wonder what we are doing when we are alone. Maybe we don't count for much unless we are rubbing against others.
p.72 Time tricks us into thinking we're part
Kathleen Hagen
The English Major, by Jim Harrison, Narrated by Mark Bramhall, Produced by Blackstone Audio, downloaded from

Publishe’rs note says it as well as I can:
"It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't."With these words, Jim Harrison begins a riotous, moving novel that sends a 60-something man on a quest
of self-rediscovery.Newly divorced and robbed of his farm by his real-estate shark of an ex-wife, Cliff is off on a road trip across America, on a mission
to rename all the states and st
Iowa City Public Library
I recently made a good find in the Book End: The English Major by Jim Harrison. Although the title makes it sound like an epic love story set in colonial Africa, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a true American travel story.

Harrison fans who love his character Brown Dog will identify with the protagonist, Cliff, who has same down-to-earth way of looking at things, a love of the Michigan outdoors and a cluelessness about women (that somehow seems to work for both of them). Unlike BD, h
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.
Delicious. Old men, road trip, whiskey, coffee, pork steak. Easy reading for the springtime doldrums.
I was turned on to Jim Harrison after casual browsing led me to a collection of his novellas, "The Farmer’s Daughter." The title story has as its focus an intelligent young girl coming of age on a farm in rural Montana and is one of the best things I have read, on any subject.

"The English Major" is essentially a road trip chronicle. At the wheel is Cliff, age sixty and recently single having been divorced by Viv after thirty years of marriage. Cliff taught high school English for ten years befor
I must admit that I checked this one out because of the title. Superficial, I know. But the description also appealed -- a road trip novel about an older man who suddenly finds himself divorced, homeless, and at loose ends. Interesting, yes? While I can't deny that the premise is interesting, the plot encompasses not much more than I've described here, and I simply could not connect with the characters.

The English Major is well-written, in a rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness style. Cliff
Apr 16, 2013 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: English majors, duh.
Shelves: lapl
Viva Jim Harrison! This is a HEEE-larious gem of a book.

It is his telling of the romantic, thoughtful, "wild and free" side of America that offers the freedom of wide open spaces VS. the cold, civilized, capitalistic side of America that relentlessly demands a life lived under contracts.

The narrator Cliff is a nature-loving farmer at heart from Michigan. In the first few pages he is the epitome of a sad country western song: His wife has cheated on him and left him, his sweetheart dog has died,
I'm new to Jim Harrison. I recently read & reviewed Just Before Dark, a collection of non-fiction essays I didn't much like, but I promised to give his fiction a go, hoping it would be better. Now I have, and will be back for more. This story reminds me of two others, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill and Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. There's a good bit of Philip Roth in it as well. Netherland with regard to the painful winding down of a marriage; Travels with Charley for the road trip ...more
Humor, sex, and non-stop great writing, The English Major is the kind of novel you can't wait to get back to, sneaking it off your night stand into your briefcase in case there's a way to read a few pages during your work breaks or while waiting for your tires to be rotated. This is a road-trip with English teacher Cliff ditching his school career twenty years ago to farm 200 acres. But that was yesterday. Now the farm has been sold and Cliff is on the road, determined to visit 48 states in his ...more
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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...
Legends of the Fall Dalva Returning to Earth The Woman Lit By Fireflies True North

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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.” 22 likes
“This infantile sense of order tended to infect my life at large. Up at 5:30 a.m., coffee, oatmeal, perhaps sausage (homemade), and fresh eggs giving one of the yolks to Lola. Listening to NPR and grieving more recently over the absence of Bob Edwards who was the sound of morning as surely as birds. Reading a paragraph or two of Emerson or Loren Eiseley to raise the level of my thinking. Going out to feed the cattle if it was during our six months of bad weather.” 5 likes
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