A Lot about A River Runs Through It

Plus: Something Big Is Coming, Daily Poem contest info, and more.

Dear Close Readers,

The first episode of our new series of episodes on Norman Maclean’s A River Runs through It is now up. Check your feeds, wherever you listen to podcasts, and it should be there. Or you can also listen here if you prefer.

Tim, Heidi, and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves chatting about this book, and I hope it shows. As you know—if you’re a longtime listener—this is one of Tim’s “heart books,” to borrow his own phrase. Hopefully, we can get to the bottom of that affection.

But, of course, he’s not the only one who loves this story, and hopefully, we’ll do it justice over the next few weeks.

Writing about the Book

As is my habit when we start a new book, I went looking for the best writing around the web about River and I found a few pieces worth sharing. So if you’d like to dive a bit deeper, here’s some writing worth checking out:

First of all, you really should check out this series of letters between Maclean and his editor/publisher Nick Lyons, the man who published the book even as all other publishers rejected it. The Daily Beast shared these letters back in 2016.

Then be sure to read Phillip Connors’ 2009 piece on River and Maclean. Here’s a sample:

It’s not as if Maclean didn’t know his stories were strange. He often said he wrote them in part so the world would know of what artistry men and women were capable in the woods of his youth, before helicopters and chain saws rendered obsolete the ancient skills of packing with mules and felling trees with crosscut saws. Artistry, specifically artistry with one’s hands, was for him among life’s most refined achievements. As he says in the opening pages of “A River Runs Through It,” “all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” Among the many things that make the novella charmingly weird is how it begins with a long piece of expository prose on how to cast a fly with a four-and-a-half-ounce rod–an opening almost Modernist in its diffidence to the rituals of storytelling, as if begging for attrition from the uncommitted. Once he is assured you are with him, however, he then shows you, as the story progresses, how to make more specialized casts, how to read a river and see where the trout live, how to choose the correct fly to entice them and, finally, how to land a big fish once you’ve hooked it. All the while, he is mingling comedy and tragedy, and making metaphors of surpassing beauty, often while hinting at his brother’s coming doom . . .

Your first introduction to River might have been via the 1992 movie starring a young Brad Pitt and directed by Robert Redford. Two years ago Brian D’Ambrosio wrote this piece on the film’s legacy:

The foremost obstacle in making the film was Maclean, a hard-nosed man cynical of Hollywood and actors. He had already snubbed William Hurt when the Oscar-winning actor arranged to meet Maclean for a day of fishing and showed up late with a couple of aides—but no fishing license. Hurt obtained a license, and he and Maclean were said to have shared a pleasurable day on the river. But upon leaving, Hurt asked Maclean: “Am I a good enough fly-fisherman to play your brother?” And Maclean replied: “Well, Bill, you’re a fine fisherman, but not good enough to be my brother.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Next week we will discuss the final half of the story, and then the following week we will answer your questions. So be ready to email them to us (closereadspodcasts@gmail.com) or to post them on the Facebook group.

  • We have another Daily Poem contest going on for our younger listeners. Back on the 11/21 episode, I shared Ogden Nash’s delightful comic ballad, “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” a great poem about courage, and now we invite our younger listeners to create illustrations/paintings/drawings inspired by the story at the heart of the poem. To enter, simply post your (or your child’s) submission on social media (Facebook or Instagram) and tag it with the hashtag #TDPballad. The deadline to enter is 12/31. So get busy, kids!

  • Don’t forget that our next book is Leif Enger’s novel, Peace Like a River. We will kick that off in a few weeks and it will accompany us into the new year.


  • Here’s the 2020 reading list.

Get Ready

Well, that about covers it. Talk to you soon.

Happy reading,

David and the CR crew

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