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This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  3,018 ratings  ·  314 reviews
A haunting, magnificently written memoir by Ivan Doig about growing up in the American West

Ivan Doig grew up in the rugged wilderness of western Montana among the sheepherders and denizens of small-town saloons and valley ranches. What he deciphers from his past with piercing clarity is not only a raw sense of land and how it shapes us but also of the ties to our mothers a
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 19th 1980 by Mariner Books (first published November 30th 1977)
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A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman MacleanThe Whistling Season by Ivan DoigThis House of Sky by Ivan DoigDancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan DoigEnglish Creek by Ivan Doig
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3rd out of 131 books — 87 voters
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Community Reviews

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Have your read the novels of Ivan Doig – those, such as The Whistling Season and/or Dancing at the Rascal Fair? If you have and enjoyed his writing, then I believe you will enjoy this too. I would recommend reading the novels first. These novels are really not novels! One comes to understand as one reads about Doig’s and his father’s and his maternal grandmother’s life, as they are presented in this biography, that his fiction talks of his own true life experiences. In his novels you get a tight ...more
Nov 12, 2008 Alyson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Chris, Shelley, Sarah, Amanda
An absolutely beautiful and prosaic account of rural Montana, family, carving an identity for oneself, and the process of acceptance. This is the first Doig I have read- after hearing praise for years from my father and others. If ever there was a memoir to read, this is it. As a semi-native Idahoan familiar with rural lifestyles and landscapes, I was moved to tears and beyond with his painful and glorious story.
Nov 03, 2011 Matt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in western life, love, memory, parenting
One of the best reads I've had in a long time. Touching, brilliantly and vividly descriptive. Ivan Doig's words are textures, fabrics. You are transported through time and place to his memories, his fantastically detailed memories, reaching back to six years old, his mother's tragic early death. Doig and his father and grandmother are a somewhat unlikely trio, but their lives are filled to the brim with Montana, ranching, growing up, and endless copious amounts of love and tolerance.

This story t
Ivan Doig is my wife's favorite author. I'm certain she's read every one of his books, and there have been several. And since he lives in our area, she has taken me along several times to listen to him read from his new work as it came out. As a result, I tried to read one of his fictional books some time back and immediately ran into what seems a trait of Doig, a trait of starting the reader out with an avalanche of descriptive text. To me, it feels like a lifetime to work through a single para ...more
Diane C:
This House of Sky is a memoir written by Ivan Doig. It is a book to be savored, read slowly and then reread to fully absorb his beautiful language. It reads very much like a novel and covers Doig's life in Montana after his mother's death when Doig was only six years old. It's a hard-scrabble life but rich with imagination, grueling work and love. This is also a story of family, particularly fathers and sons. The surrounding characters on the ranch and in the neighboring town are like y
I did not want it to end! I absolutely love Ivan Doig's language and to have it grace his memoir was wonderful. I was in Montana in the early 1900's - I could feel the characters and touch the landscape. His description of his father's death is incredibly moving. I saw the genesis of his fiction that I so enjoy. I think I enjoyed this as much as The Whistling Season - and that's saying a lot!
I couldn't agree more with the review given:

This haunting, magnificently written memoir introduced an important American writer. Now, in its Fifteenth Anniversary Edition, Ivan Doig's preface provides stirring details of the making of this memorable book. Ivan Doig grew up in the rugged, elemental Montana wilderness with his father, Charlie, and his grandmother, Bessie Ringer. His life was formed among the sheepherders and characters of small-town saloons and valley ranches as he wandered beside
Sep 14, 2011 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: western history lovers
Recommended to Judy by: Anne Reach
This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind paints the history of the Doig and Ringer families amidst the taming of the wild Montana hills. This isn't only a story of battling the elements but cobbling together a family for young Ivan after the death of his mother. This meant Grandmother Ringer and his father, Charlie, drawing a truce after years of harsh words and stony walls of resentment towards one another.

What I liked:
*Doig is a gifted, polished writer not content with using a basic vo
I've read some of Ivan Doig's later novels but had never taken the time to read This House of Sky, a memoir of his years growing up in Montana in the 1940s and 50s. Doig's death this past week (April 9, 2015) made me turn to his 1977 memoir, and I'm so glad I did. Beautifully written descriptive of the Montana landscape and the characters who formed his early world, especially a tribute in part to his father and maternal grandmother.
Kathy Halsan
Ivan Doig's memoir of his young life in Montana is one of the best books I have read. I am traveling to Montana soon and thought I would read this before I go. Doig is one of my favorite authors and I wanted to visit some of the sites and see scenery found in his books. His characters are always complex, interesting and "salt of the earth". In Sky, Doig writes of his father and Grandmoher who raised him. His Dad was a ranch hand and Grandma was a crew cook. My Dad, Mom and Grandparents were farm ...more
Sharon Huether
This House of Sky:Landscapes of a Western Mind By Ivan Doig I was intrigued by this book because Ivan Doig is a writer from Montana. I think this is his best book so-far. I read it I few years ago. Where he grew up was a place I was familiar with. He grew up with the land. It dictated their lives. He learned responsibility at a young age. At the time of his youth there were many characters in the small local towns. He brought out the scenes of times that were simipler. This is one of the best bo ...more
I'd heard of Ivan Doig but until my book club chose This House of Sky, I had not read any of his works. I could add my comments on how beautifully written the book is, but the critics have already done that. The descriptions of ranch life in Montana reminded me of my Dad who liked visiting Montana. The difference was that Doig's family cared for sheep vs. the cattle Dad enjoyed. However, the big open spaces, the ranch life, the challenges were very similar to much of what my parents experienced ...more
What an amazing memoir! This son of a Scottish immigrant growing up working the fields of Montana is rich in family and place. The family relationships are fluid, diverse, and adaptable. Ivan's mother dies when he is six, and his gruff, tough, and humane father does what it takes to provide. We meet two women in his life -- Ruth, through a brief misfit marriage to his father; and his grandmother (mother's side) who appears also to be a misfit with an antagonistic relationship with his father, bu ...more
Just beautiful. I can't even remember the different reactions I had when I read this book. I just remember being captivated by the writing, and I went on to recommend this (and Doig's fiction) to book-loving friends.
A young boy loses his mother and follows his dad from ranch to ranch while his dad ekes out a living. This was not the book I thought it would be, at least the first 120 pages. It was slow and not grabbing my attention and it was depressing. It's more about family than a place and about a time-really it's a labor of love. It's about memory. I wish I could tell my life story like Doig has done. I'm glad I stayed with it because I was rewarded with some great stories about sheep, perseverance, and ...more
One of the best books I have ever read. His prose is incredible! I would recommend this to anyone interested in pioneers or Montana.
Nancy (NE)
Elegant and yawning narrative of growing up in the west at a time when to be literate meant knowing how to tame the challenges that animals, land and weather brought. He imparts a simple communion among his extended family that is articulated in few words but an unflinching understanding of their mutual love. Doig writes about his somewhat fractured childhood, how his father tried raising him alone after his wife's death. Doig deeply respects his father's Montana roots. The ties to that way of l ...more
Like "Angle of Repose", this western epic has pitched a barbed-wire fence at its entrance, daring the reader to get at the bounty within. "Angle"'s fence was the self-pitying diatribes that one had to grimace through to get to the rich descriptions of mining life in the last half of the 19th century. "Sky"'s barrier is the language of the author. Doig starts his book with difficult-to-digest semantics, possibly an attempt to meld the Scottish and Nordic language patterns of the book's characters ...more
Loved this book; filled with heartbreak, love, everyday living, the dilemma of families. Just a very special book. Favorite quotes: "Taylor was a talented storyteller-- it was as if his voice put a rich gloss on anything it touched-- and while he had been in New York singing at society parties, white writers such as Van Vechten urged him to make a manuscript of his stories of early-day White Sulphur. They steered him to a publisher and illustrator, and shepherded his guesswork grammar into print ...more
Ivan Doig is trumpeted as a younger Wallace Stegner. There is similarity as both write about the west and write with beautiful words about family relationships.
The House of Sky is Doig's life growing up rough and tumble in Montana. He was born the same year as me so that made an interesting contrast for me growing up in Utah and New Mexico. There were similarities but mostly differences as he had no mother, his father was a hard working drifter trying to make a living and his grandmother becam
Angela Gaskell
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Dec 04, 2009 Walt rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Memoirs of Westerners
Recommended to Walt by: Kristin Purdy
Ivan Doig grew up in Montana. In this book, he talks about his experience growing up there. He tells about the severity of life there in general, and, more specifically, about the severity of his life growing up. Of course, having graduated from a college in the same Big Sky Athletic Conference as are the Montana universities, I was familiar with the terminology, big sky. And I was familiar with Big Sky Country. That, of course, was Montana. His title --- this house of sky --- relates, I think, ...more
Memoirs can be problematic, as there is often too sacred of a belief that consummate answers are to be gleaned from the examination of family, history, and lineage. And when this ancestral journey unfolds across the grand, unforgiving western landscape it is commonly assumed that the adventures and answers therein will be even more dramatic and profound. In This House of Sky, Ivan Doig has written an eloquent and moving memoir, one that is equal parts story and tenacious investigation. But it’s ...more
Most people know how much I love "Dancing at the Rascal Fair," but until recently that was the only book I'd ever read by Ivan Doig. While that book is fictional, "This House of Sky" is a memoir of Doig's childhood, and it secured him even more as one of my favorite authors. I don't even know where to start with this book. The characters (if you can call them that in a memoir) are incredibly vivid, and Doig does a great job of capturing the dialect of his European family members and the rest of ...more
A biography, Doig grew up in the rugged Montana wilderness with his father, Charlie, and his grandmother, Bessie Ringer. What Doig deciphers with beautiful clarity is not only a raw sense of the land and how it shapes us, but our ties to those who nurture and love us.
Ivan’s mother died when he was young, and his father made a bad–but mercifully brief–remarriage. For a time after that, Ivan moved in with his mother’s mother Bessie while his father was recuperating from an illness. Eventually, the
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Doig's tale of growing up on the Montana frontier with his father and grandmother is a difficult one to review. His childhood was as different from mine as possible and he doesn't scrimp on detail. From a walkthrough of the local saloons to an overview of tending sheep to stories of hunting grouse, it was not always easy to relate.

But Doig has an amazing grasp of language and character. And if the narrative is not always compelling, the story - one of family and the sacrifices we make for family
This is a magnificent memoir. Ivan Doig, a novelist living in Seattle, grew up an only child among sheepherders in the vast, rugged valley landscape of western Montana. The book opens with the death of his mother on Ivan's sixth birthday. His father provides for him in the determined manner of a Western ranch foreman, eventually seeking out and forming an alliance with Ivan's maternal grandmother. The family of three endures to the end, through better and worse times, though Ivan chooses to leav ...more
I love the language of Ivan Doig; he combines exquisite detail with a Scottish brogue and a Montana cowboy vernacular to tell his stories. In this memoir he writes of his early life growing up in Montana, being cared for by his father and his maternal grandmother, after his mother died when he was only 6 years old. Their life was not an easy one, moving from one small town or one ranch to another, ranching, sheep-herding, scraping by. Yet these were steely people, determined to keep going. Gener ...more
If you have ever sat and listened to tales of settling in or growing up in the rural West -- homesteading, experiencing childhood on the farm, enduring back-breaking and often monotonous work in the fields, living with hard times -- then you'll find it easy to get absorbed by this book. Mainly a memoir of a Montana boyhood spent on ranches and small towns, it reminded me a lot of listening to the stories of my grandparents and my parents, who lived for many decades in the same part of the world, ...more
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Ivan Doig was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana to a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. After the death of his mother Berneta, on his sixth birthday, he was raised by his father Charles "Charlie" Doig and his grandmother Elizabeth "Bessie" Ringer. After several stints on ranches, they moved to Dupuyer, Pondera County, Montana in the north to herd sheep close to the Rocky Mountain Front.

More about Ivan Doig...
The Whistling Season Dancing at the Rascal Fair The Bartender's Tale English Creek Work Song

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“The spaces between stars are where the work of the universe is done.” 22 likes
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