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Hole in the Sky: A Memoir

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  217 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
William Kittredge's stunning memoir is at once autobiography, a family chronicle, and a Westerner's settling of accounts with the land he grew up in. This is the story of a grandfather whose single-minded hunger for property won him a ranch the size of Delaware but estranged him from his family; of a father who farmed with tractors and drainage ditches but consorted with ...more
Paperback, 258 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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Apr 21, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Kittredge's excellent, thoughtful, and well-written book is a memoir of growing up on a ranch in southeastern Oregon. This is arid country where spring runoff from the mountains gathers in lakes and swamps used for millennia as a stopover by migrating waterbirds. Enter the enterprising Kittredge family, and during the 20th century thousands of acres here were transformed into a vast irrigated ranch, its chief output evolving from cattle to grain to hay to feed milling and feedlots. More to the ...more
Mar 29, 2015 Avidreader rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Not sure when this was written but it seemed to me that the author was still too attached emotionally to his earlier life to write more forcefully of that time. It seemed as if he was constantly apologizing about it as well as straddling the fence as to whether he would ever believe in himself as a writer. I found the very last section where he offers an opinion on environmental responsibility we all have for this earth sort of a tack-on. I would have left it out. We didn't need to know the ...more
Sep 01, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cant believe I'm the first one to rate this book. What power.

A memoir of his life and his struggles trying to live out his grandfathers dream of the land, knowing it is not him, knowing it is wrong, and finally coming to terms with that.

Having spent summers on my grandfathers farm, some parts of this book struck me as my life: "my people sent me to the desert as a child so I would learn how to work. My life since has been colored by what I got those four of five summers with those men".

Aug 22, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
In this autobiography, the author is brutally honest about mistakes, misconceptions and his imperfect view of the world as a young man. But for all of his candor, you realize that somewhere along the way he was transformed from clueless child to self-aware adult. The author employs the misuse of the American West to symbolize our tendency to trash our human spirits and lives and loved ones. But don't get me wrong: he is wise and gentle with everyone in this book... including himself. A ...more
Gaylord Dold
Nov 09, 2016 Gaylord Dold rated it really liked it
Second Look Books: Hole in the Sky by William Kittredge (Alfred A. Knopf, $20)
Review first published Sunday, August 30, 1992.

It seems impossible, but there is a place in America that is so empty, so terrifyingly beautiful, that one, on seeing it for the first time, would almost imagine that the country had hardly been touched by civilization at all. Bordered on the north by the John Day River, on the south by the lunar-lava landscape of Pyramid Lake and Mount Shasta, on the west by the great Cas
Dec 03, 2016 Marvin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Absolutely fantastic account of Kittredge's early life. Stunning writing, thoughtful and engaging narrative. Both the story of the winding down of his family's massive farming and ranching operation in Southeast Oregon and the story of his finding his way into what he wanted to do in life--while also not quite entirely about either of these things, either. It's about the latter while telling the former, maybe.
Jul 04, 2012 Lindsey rated it it was ok
I felt conflicted about this book while I was reading it and now that I am finished I still cannot decide how I feel about it. On one hand, the writing is beautiful- Kittredge offers these amazingly insightful views of his movement through life, set mostly in the Warner valley of southern Oregon. On the other han, the content I found utterly depressing. He seems to be apologizing for himself,to his family I presume, and there is something unsettling about a memoir that appears to be a substitute ...more
May 03, 2016 Andrew added it
Shelves: memoir
Like Wallace Stegner before him, Kittredge struggles to understand how the contemporary West is shaped, but unlike the more elegiac Stegner, comes up seeing the whole history of the West as one of hypocrisy and hubris, defined by ritualized masculinity and an ethos of perennial capitalist expansion. I'm generally suspicious of memoirs that attempt to politicize personal experience, but this was alright. I have to think that this was, to a certain degree, because he sees his experiences as just ...more
Nov 27, 2012 itpdx rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautiful memoir. Kittredge tells the stories of his family and the land they occupied in southeast Oregon. He acknowledges the mistakes they made in "industrializing" the land and he acknowledges the mistakes he made in his own life. It took him a long time to outgrow his "little boy" stage and he left some wreckage in his wake. I got a little fed up with his alcohol fueled pity parties but he does salute the people in his life who nudged him in constructive paths. His odes to the land and to ...more
Jun 24, 2014 Zach rated it really liked it
"In a family as unchurched as ours there was only one sacred story, and that was the one we told ourselves every day, the one about work and property and ownership, which is sad. We had lost track of stories like the one which tells us the world is to be cherished as if it exists inside our own skin. We were heedless people in a new country; we came and went in a couple of generations. But we plowed a lot of ground while we were there."

A beautiful book, but not one with any real sense of the rea
Aug 07, 2016 Peggy rated it really liked it
Classic 'Western' writer, reminiscent of Stegner.
Setting: mostly before and after WW II, esp the 50s.
Epic in its examination of the rise and fall of a family owning vast acreage in southeastern Oregon, overseen by a remote and tyrannical patriarch (the author is this guy's grandson).
Family members are pitted against one another, but it's still family, it's still 'home.'
Guilt, betrayal, back-biting, hard work, failure, dissociation, abandoned dreams, disappointment, changing times...
It gets a lit
sarah  corbett morgan
Jul 19, 2016 sarah corbett morgan rated it it was amazing
It's rare for a writer to get so far in my head that he echoes my thoughts, philosophies, and memories. Maybe it's a shared eastern Oregon history, maybe he is just a kindred spirit, whatever, I find I have to read William Kittredge with a notebook beside me; so many forgotten incidents, stories, and thoughts about family and ranching pop into my head. I think Kittredge is one of the great western writers; I would rank him up there with Stegner and Doig, and his memoir, Hole in the Sky, is a ...more
Jul 02, 2010 Seth rated it really liked it
Unflinching is probably overused when it comes to memoirs, but this one really is. Brutally honest about his shortcomings, but also beautiful in his descriptions of his fears, the landscape of the mountain west, and, in spots, supremely enlightening. Pretty clear that he longs for humans to be good to each other, even if he wasn't able to do that a lot of the time. A line, at the end, "I want to think that all creatures, even us, are in love with the makeup of their actualities like bats at the ...more
Apr 30, 2012 Debra rated it liked it
Shelves: re-read
William Kittredge has written an unflinching memoir of his early years in Southeastern Oregon. He speaks of family, place and identity. While the writing is lyrical as many others have written, I don't think I would like him as a person. The descriptions of place are worth reading and it does serve as a warning that we, people, have responsibility for the land. Once stripped of resources, it never really comes back, no matter how hard conservation efforts make the attempt.
Kevin Kasowski
Aug 30, 2015 Kevin Kasowski rated it liked it
The final chapter of redemption was the best and most lyrical but you had to slog through the first 90% of the book to get there -- I confess I skimmed through parts of it, after tiring of reading about the umpteenth drunken binge, the multiple episodes of infidelity, etc. I could only find a little sympathy for his younger self-indulgent self and lost patience after a while. Took him well into his 30s to finally find his place in life though he did get there, it seems, eventually.
Jun 29, 2010 Sharon rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiographies
I loved this book and underlined choice sentences like crazy until around the middle. Then I came back to its pages now and then. It's Kittredge's rough memoirs, and I really like how he ties it to the earth. But the second half of the book feels thrown together and uneven. He briefly mentions a part of his life spent with the Native American movement--enough to tease, and then he drops it quickly. The ending was dismally chaotic.
Aug 25, 2012 Judy rated it it was ok
Having read Kittredge's essays about the west, and loving his writing style and wonderful descriptions, I was disappointed by his memoir. I loved the writing, but kept waiting for some sort of redemption from his life of bad choices, too much drinking, and neglect of his children. He did not rise out of the mire of his childhood so the end of this book left you hanging wondering if he ever really made sense of his past.
Robert Rebein
Mar 25, 2013 Robert Rebein rated it really liked it
HOLE IN THE SKY is one of the most searching and meditative memoirs ever written about life in the contemporary Western United States. Unlike many who write about the West, Kittredge grew up on a large ranch and spent 10 years of his adult life working in ranching and farming before starting his life over as writer. This book changed the way I think about contemporary memoir, showing me how much can be achieved without resort to scene and dramatization as we think of it.
Dec 04, 2009 Suz rated it it was ok
An interesting story, but the writing style was not my cup of tea. It seemed to ramble, and jump around a lot, so it was somewhat hard to follow what year it was, or what was going on.
Jun 06, 2012 Keith rated it liked it
Having spent a good chunk of my life in SE Oregon, this book spoke to me. Regardless of that, it's still a great book. Kitteredge is so damn insightful, and transparent. Highly suggested.
Aug 19, 2009 Betty rated it liked it
I wanted to read it because I am from Montana, William Kittredge lives in Missoula where I lived and I like memoirs. Some parts were hard to get through but I am glad I have read it.
Cecilia Moar
Jan 02, 2014 Cecilia Moar rated it it was amazing
A gutsy, honest read. This is memoir at it's best. WK doesn't hold back. we can learn from this compelling author
Ricky Flowers
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William Kittredge was born in 1932 in Portland, Oregon.
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“I had discovered a terrible vulnerability I myself which I think of not as cowardliness but as an ability to imagine too much.” 3 likes
“We tell stories to talk out the trouble in our lives, trouble otherwise so often so unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us recognize what we believe to be most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” 2 likes
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