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A River Runs Through It
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A River Runs Through It

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  6,528 ratings  ·  392 reviews
From its first magnificent sentence, "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing," to the last, "I am haunted by waters," "A River Runs Through It" is an American classic.Based on Norman Maclean's childhood experiences, "A River Runs Through It" has established itself as one of the most moving stories of our time; it captivates readers with viv ...more
Hardcover, 168 pages
Published May 15th 1989 by University of Chicago Press (first published May 1976)
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4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,528 ratings  ·  392 reviews

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May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
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
Sean Sullivan
Jan 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Diane Barnes
Dec 07, 2018 marked it as don-t-want-to-finish
Abandoning for now. Probably just not the right time.
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
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"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.

Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: camw, westerns, fiction
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
Howard McEwen
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There’s not much I can write about this novella that would do it justice but I’ll try.

It’s lyrical and poetic and simple and beautiful. The prose is elegant and direct and there’s a grace to every moment of it – even when the subject matter is a drinking,fighting or whores. Norman Maclean writes like Hemingway, if Hemingway had gained a bit of wisdom and dropped the over-arching need to prove something to his readers or himself.

It is, a great read. It’s also a page-turner. I find it hard to read
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
At its best it touches the pure poetry of existence that Hemingway touched.
Charla Oppenlander
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this one out loud to Scot. What a beautiful book. To Scot’s dismay I had to cry a little at the end. :)
Otis Chandler
Jan 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
I read this after I went fly fishing for the first time, and it was pure gold. A fantastic story.
Lavinia Ludlow
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful writing. Actual conversation:

"I'm reading Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It." -Me
"Through what?" -my friend
Donald Hardy
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Contains best one liner in all of fishing literature: sentence begins with "You son of a bitch . . .". Has some mystic nonsense but why would anyone fly fish if there weren't some mystic nonsense in it?
Vince Snow
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-west
Really incredible book about family and nature. I thought it had powerful themes about how hard it is to help people:

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
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: sports, fishing
A beautiful book about fly fishing, family, and religion. It tells the story of a fly fishing family from Montana and their struggle to find meaning in life. What struck me most is the bond within the family circle and their unending concern for each other's well being.
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Got problems? Fly fishing IS the answer.

This is one of the best stories I have read in a very long time. It can be as shallow or deep as you want it to be (no pun intended). I think I’ll be re-reading it many times.

Norman Maclean was a Professor of English at the University of Chicago, uniquely qualified to be a writer but strangely, wrote this, his first book, at the age of 73. Sadly, Maclean only managed to write a few other books besides A River Runs Through It. It’s such a masterpiece, I hav
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I finally read this little book because my big brother, Russ, has often mentioned it as a favorite of his, and he is a voracious reader. my goodness, where have I been? It is easily one of the best books I have ever read. I usually wait to read until my little ones are in bed, but I had to finish this one this morning, and I found a quiet place in my house to read those last few pages a couple of times and have a good cry. Norman Maclean is an artist. Oh to be able to write like this! I know I w ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Having seen and enjoyed the movie some years ago, I was surprised to see that this was a novella. It seemed bigger somehow. This was a powerful story regardless of it's length.

There exists in man an innate spirituality that both struggles with and embraces the world wherein he lives. Living so close to the world and guided by the faith of the father, this family in Montana illustrates this dichotomy in a beautifully told story. The language pulls you into their world you feel their joy and thei
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
The simple prose of this book can be deceiving, but there's a depth of story here. The depth comes from the trueness of it. It as if Maclean were sitting down with us and telling us his thoughts on fly fishing with a few family anecdotes thrown in. Each sentence still manages to carry the force of the higher philosophical implications. To paraphrase a Gary Snyder poem (who was probably paraphrasing some Eastern wisdom) if you think too much about the rocks in the riverbed, it ruins the magic of ...more
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Absolutely spell-binding! I don't have words for how good it is.
Read it at once!
Ok. It's set in early twentieth century Montana, mountains, rivers and a small town.
Two novellas and a short story. All three are autobiographical coming of age stories. We really do write best about what we know and maybe I especially liked it because my father taught me fly fishing when I was quite young.
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book every few years and have for the past 20 or 25 years. Every time it makes me cry, every though I know the book almost without reading it. If you've seen the movie, you know it is great, but you owe it to yourself to hear this book. Not only it the first novella wonderful, but the entire books is just great. As Norman's father would say, it is beautiful.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Fly fishing- no salmon so only 3 stars
A long time favorite in all its many, audio, and film. The writing is lovely, the story of two brothers is hauntingly real, the many secondary characters are interesting, and I even enjoyed the fly fishing instructions.

Whenever I run out of audio material, Ivan Doig's reading of this classic is what I inevitably turn to. I've probably listened to it dozens of times over the the years.

This time I listened to an audio version read by Joel Fabiani that also included two additional s
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a book that captures both the beauty and the tragedy of families, of brothers, of nature and of life and death. That about covers everything a book or any religion can accomplish. And this book is about religion. It is about fly fishing, but like some of the deep pools where the fish are found the depths of this book need to be explored with reverence and patience.

This is a meditative book. While not long in pages, the book requires time to think. There are the obvious metaphors that wil
Ralph Porrazzo
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
A beautiful book about family, men, their relationships, and fly fishing.
Dave Schumacher
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
For a book focused on fishing to be entrancing to a non-fisherman, it has to be special
Ian Anderson
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's a book about fly-fishing and the movements of the fisherman, the motions of the water, and the sights and sounds of the mountains surrounding them. It's a book about brotherly love and the beauty of life. Little happens but it's so simple and subtle and filled with depth and I love it.
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Makes you want to take up fly fishing and hug your brother.
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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
“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” 102 likes
“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
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 those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
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