A River Runs Through It
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A River Runs Through It

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  14,123 ratings  ·  947 reviews
Norman Maclean's memories about growing up in Montana revolve around mighty trout rivers and the four-count rhythm of fly fishing. It is the one activity where his family can bridge troubled relationships, where brother can connect with brother and father with son. And in the end, it is the river that makes them realize that life continues and all things are related. The s...more
Hardcover, 168 pages
Published May 15th 1989 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1976)
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My younger brother and I had a conversation growing up that went something like this:

Him: “I can’t wait to get out of here. I’m never coming back when I leave. What about you?”

Here I would always put on the most innocent of grins and reply: “Oh, I’ll never leave South Dakota, brother. It needs me here, like I need it.”

At that we would both start laughing because he knew I had just done a poor impression of Norman talking to his own brother, Paul, the mysterious brother who has wanderlust and dar...more
Growing up, while the rest of my family hated the movie, I have always been inexplicably attracted to its ideas. Whenever it was on the TV, I had to sneak down to the basement to watch it. The film is one of the few out there that can speak to my innermost soul.

I finally read the book a few years ago, and found a profundity that the film barely touched. It is difficult to put into words the reason why this is one of the most significant books in my life. The plot seems common enough, when expla...more
Mar 18, 2013 Leftbanker rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non sissies like me who may tear up a bit at the end but that isn't crying goddamit
Shelves: novels
I really, really fucking hate to fish, but. Can you end a sentence with "but?" Did I write that correctly with the quotation marks? Do you see what I'm doing here? I'm using humor to avoid talking about my real feelings.

When I first read this book I was on a cross-country flight. I was just finishing it when we began our descent. I was tearing up, and not because I was glad to see the sprawl of Los Angeles again. That last part when he is out fishing alone and everyone he knew and loved was dea...more
James Thane
This is one of my favorite of all books, best known for the novella that opens the book and provides its title. It may be a book that could only have been written by someone in his seventies, as Maclean was when he began it. On the surface, it's a story about Maclean, his gifted but fundamentally flawed brother, their father, the land that they loved and the religion of fly fishing that bound them together. But it's also a book that has a great deal to say about the bonds that tie family members...more
This book features one novella and a couple of short stories and they are mostly about fly-fishing, logging (before the invention of a chainsaw), and the early days of United States Forest Service. It goes into fine details of casting line (which apparently is "an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o'clock"), finding a good sawing partner and ideal sawing rhythm, and the methods of extinguishing wildfires in the early twentieth century; generally the sort of thing e...more
Mio padre disse: «Sei un bravo pescatore».
Mio fratello disse: «Sono abbastanza bravo con la canna, ma mi ci vorranno altri tre anni, prima di cominciare a pensare come un pesce».
Ricordando che aveva pescato tutti quei pesci cambiando mosca e usando una Hackle gialla di George su amo 2 con le ali di piuma, dissi, senza sapere bene cosa dicevo: «Pensi già come una mosca morta».

È ovvio che per capire la citazione qua sopra bisogna essere tanto bravi nell’arte della pesca oppure aver letto già un...more
this is one of those books my mother has been telling me to read for what feels like my whole life. the opening sentence, about jesus' disciples being fly fisherman and john, the favorite, being a dry-fly fisherman, was quoted and referred to on the screen porch in the afternoon, at the dinner table in the evening, and in the morning on the way to church. naturally, i have fought reading it tooth and nail.

but mama was right. it is unbelievable. the title story is beautiful and heartbreaking, an...more
Sean Sullivan
This book is so good I have trouble telling people about it. This might be because it is so easy to start off with, "Well, it's this book about fly fishing..." The truth is the book IS about fly fishing: but more than that it is about life, family, love, brotherhood, and growing up. It is the first novel the University of Chicago Press published, and if you read it, you'll understand why. The lyricism of the words, the eloquence of the imagery, and the poignancy of the story combine to make this...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Something one really has a passion doing he often sees the entirety of human existence in it. Many chess grandmasters, for instance, have written their auto-biographies with titles like 'Chess is Life' or 'How Chess Imitates Life' or some such. Golfers, basketball players or martial arts practitioners (like Bruce Lee) see patterns, principles and lessons in the sports they indulge in which they claim teach us about life in general and how to properly live it. And so is it here: fly fishing in th...more
"You like to tell true stories, don't you?" he asked, and I answered, " Yes, I like to tell stories that are true."
Then he asked, "After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don't you make up a story and the people to go with it."
"Only then will you understand what happened and why."

Many people think that this book is a memoir, but it is not. Norman Maclean did have a brother named Paul, and that brother was murdered in 1938, but this is a work of fiction. I've been having a lot of...more
Why does "The Catcher in the Rye" hold such fascination for Americans? Was it because of all the swear words in it? The fantastically awful narrator?

When I think about American literature that deserves to be read and lauded this book shoves up to first place. It is truly an American book, full of marvel and wonder and space. "A River Runs Through It" is only one of the stories in the book--each better than that last. Better still is: "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky". Unb...more
"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others .... I am haunted by rivers."

And so begins master storyteller Norman Maclean's tale of his family in early 20th century Montana. The book is a classic.

Elizabeth A
I love the movie based on this story, but had not read the novella, so when the folks at Literary Disco raved about it, it moved to the top of my TBR pile.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Ivan Doig. This is really a meditation. A meditation on nature and fly fishing, on fathers and sons, on love and loss, on the push and pull of siblings. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this on my evening walks along Boston Harbor, and plan to watch the movie again soon.
Jan 22, 2008 Timothy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sportsmen, philosophers, plowmen, stay-at-home moms, truck drivers, loggers, prostitutes and pastors
There is a rawness to the stories that Norman Maclean tells in this collection. He lived the stories 30 or 40 years before he wrote them into this book. His writing is poetry, harsh and spare. It reminds me a little bit of Hemingway but with a more refined sense of place. Hemingway seemed to be searching for something or trying to find himself in the places he traveled. Maclean knew who he was and where he was. And where he was is the Montana that many people in other parts of this country think...more
Stephanie Pugh
It's easy to allow yourself to get bored with this one. But push through it; you won't regret it. This is a story about two brothers who grow up fly fishing, and they're taught by their minister father how physical grace and spiritual grace can become the same thing through fishing. It's a beautiful story. It got me to thinking about what in my life helps me gain physical and spiritual grace at the same time. What's the one thing you do that is spiritual to you, but maybe not to anyone else. The...more
I read this book for a third time on assignment from a class I'm auditing at the University of Colorado, a class taught by Patricia Limerick of the Center of the American West. The story is iconic western literature.

Here we read in novella format the essentially autobiographical story of the author's painful memories of his relationship with his beloved brother, who lives on in his consciousness as the Michelangelo of fly-fishing.

The retelling of the story, written when the author was in his sev...more
I read this book on a recommendation of a friend. At first I was like, "Why do I want to read a book about fly fishing? I don't like to fish." It didn't take many pages to realize that this wasn't a book about fishing at all though. This book is about loving someone without understanding them. This book is about The Way of all things in life. This book is about being human.

It really is amazing how he links so many things back to this single fishing trip; what it makes him remember and know and t...more
The story of brothers has always been fascinating to me - I still believe it to be one of the most formative, aggressive, and comforting relationships a person (I suppose I can only speak for males here) can experience. The competitiveness, the constant yearning to impress the other while still holding yourself apart, the simultaneous desire to win the validation of parents over the other, the need to have a friend, an adversary, a...brother - these are all inimitably wrapped up in the fraternal...more
I feel that this book has a target audience: people who like fly fishing, and that's it. I mean, I get that there are family aspects and even some stuff about religion. But it's buried under so much crap about fly fishing that by the time it gets to anything else, you don't really care, because you know the book is going to go right back to freaking fly fishing. I mean, the book even kind of sums up if a person is "beautiful" or "a bastard" due to how much the like fly fishing. And I must say, f...more
I loved this book when I first read it 15-20 years ago. My brother who lives in Montana sent it to me and told me I must read it, I was so glad I did. I remember just loving the writing and of course the fly fishing! I recently listened to a Literary Disco podcast where they talked about the book and they also rave about the book, so I pulled it out again. First, I was so thrilled to find that my brother had inscribed it with a funny note complete with hand drawn photos and he had also pointed o...more
Erik Simon
There's an old saying that no piece of writing is ever finished, it's just finally abandoned. This title novella was finished. It is perfect, still so perfect after all of these years. I'm older than when I first read it by far, I'm more jaded, and I'm an ass hole more often than I want to be, but this book is redepmtion and grace, without which we're all plain fucked. It's perfect. Still so perfect after all of these years.
Every word of this story fits precisely with the one before and after it. The result is a seamless whole that carries the reader through time and place into the soul of the River itself. The book IS a River. And I am haunted by its waters.
This is probably my favorite book of all times. The story is simple with great characters and the writing is incredible. The last passage still gives me goosebumps and I've read it so many times. He certainly has a way with language!
Lavinia Ludlow
Beautiful writing. Actual conversation:

"I'm reading Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It." -Me
"Through what?" -my friend
Otis Chandler
I read this after I went fly fishing for the first time, and it was pure gold. A fantastic story.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I was actually wooed into reading this book by a glowing review. I wish my experience had come even a little bit close to how that reader felt about the book, because I wouldn't have ended up feeling like my time had been wasted.

And honestly, this was a huge slog. Not caring much about fly-fishing or lumberjacking, I didn't start out primed to enjoy the content. But some authors are still able to pull me in with strength of characters or an interesting story, even with settings or scenarios I am...more
"A River Runs Through It" is one of the best written stories I've ever read. Nearly a third of its 105 pages are spent describing fly fishing outings in minute detail. Having never had this experience myself, I nonetheless leaned forward, spellbound, as I read. Even these details weave perfectly into the larger focus of the story, subtly showing the beautiful relationship between two brothers and their father.

Two more stories remain to be read in this short collection, but I already wish Maclean...more
This was a fantastic read, especially the title story. Norman Maclean spins the sad saga of his family with a respect and richness rarely found in modern literature. His ability to capture the Montana of his youth is nothing short of amazing as he winds the rivers and mountains around his family to a point that they're all inseperable characters of the story.
While the second story, Your Pal Jim, is lacking in most of the qualities that make 'A River Runs Through It' so great, it's short and amu...more
Do prepare yourselves for a rant. I've taken a deep breathe and everything (along with a swift pint to get my going)...

I'll be honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to reading this book. When Diane declared it was her book club choice and showed us the 'blurb', my immediate thought was 'fishing...oh my...' (I know, a girl of many thoughts and words...how you must all admire me). There was a glimmer though. Was this to be the poetic, beautiful piece of literature that I craved (and that t...more
I needed an audio book for my drive to Indiana for my Grandpa's funeral. Fly fishing had been on my mind because of a few mentions in recent books, and I wanted a book that dealt with water. My route north follows the path of the Mississippi River backwards and then breaks at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to follow that of the Ohio and smaller tributaries all the way to Loogootee. Seven years ago, my Grandpa and I plotted that course, and he told me story after story of the...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Born in Clarinda, Iowa, on December 23, 1902, Maclean was the son of Clara Davidson (1873-1952) and the Rev. John Maclean (1862-1941), a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who managed much of the education of the young Norman and his brother Paul (1906-1938) until 1913. The fam...more
More about Norman Maclean...
Young Men and Fire Usfs 1919: Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky The Norman Maclean Reader Norman MacLean Collection: A River Runs Through It, Young Men & Fire, and On The Big Blackfoot Montana, 1919

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“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.” 194 likes
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