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A River Runs Through It

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  7,629 ratings  ·  493 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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Average rating 4.17  · 
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 ·  7,629 ratings  ·  493 reviews

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Written in 1976, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It feels timeless, in the best possible way. There’s something so soothing about being in and among nature, without the noise or hustle of deadlines, and losing yourself in those moments where you can feel at one with something larger, more profound than the everyday-ness of life that we get caught up in.

”In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.

Religion is a part of this story, as the father is a Pres
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.
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.

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
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: westerns, fiction, camw
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
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it
The first line is as perfect as any first line, in any book. And it quickly devolves to many pages of clever, jocular manly-speak, not unlike listening to sports broadcasters. It's a short book, and I began to question, during this long section, why this is a classic. It's okay, and some of it is very funny, but it was like sitting down next to a tongue-in-cheek type of wise guy at a bar. But then it had this very memorable scene, and I could finally see how it got made into a movie. And there's ...more
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.
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
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read this book many times and its one of a handful I try to read every few years to see if the story has changed for me, to marvel over the way Norman Maclean had with the English language, and to get back to one of the stories that help form my worldview.
A while back I read a story that posited that we are not our brothers keeper and that supposition was terrifying. As I'm older, I realize how tender the story is of a brother who his family could not help, did not know how, but marveled
Michael Dault
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was one of my favorite movies, so I had to read the book. It didn't disappoint. It actually made me happy that we got a more detailed look at Norm's family life. Very good book. Norman Maclean was apart of a generation of writers who really chewed the scenery in their descriptions. And they glorified things we take for granted today. I miss writers like Maclean.
Heather Goodman
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How have I not read this book before? Prose that embodies the river itself; fragile relationships; beauty and brokenness in the delicate yet strong natures of humans seeking grace. So many beautiful passages. I can’t wait to reread this.
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. :)
Aug 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
I read this to complete a reading challenge. I was very bored the entire time I read it. Not for me.
Eh, it was ok. Beautiful writing but I didn't love the storyline.
Courtney Clark
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Much like I had to get out of myself and enter into the mind of the ancient Greek to appreciate and understand The Illiad, I found I had to get out of myself and enter into the masculine mind to appreciate A River Runs Through It. This was difficult. Even more difficult than the Illiad, to be honest. Both because I had barely over 100 pages of novella vs nearly 1000 pages of epic to adjust with, and because the journey from modern to ancient may be shorter than that from female to male.

I likely
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
Kerry Pickens
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
Very spiritual and eloquent story about the difficulties of family relationships, and dealing with the death of loved ones. . . and fly fishing.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: close-reads
This is a hard book to rate. I don't think I'll ever re-read it, but it was poetic, beautiful, tragic, and Montanan, four things I love.

(Realizing that it was those four things makes me think I may re-read it. Plus funny. I will definitely watch (rewatch?) the movie.)

The ending seemed a little abrupt, though. I had to go back to it a couple times to see if there was something I missed. Did anyone else think that or did I make that up?
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?
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The story is so captivating and the prose so beautiful, but what’s equally as impressive is that I know exactly nothing minus 10 about fly-fishing, but now I really want to try it.
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
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
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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

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“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” 105 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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