Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

December 13, 2007

So Sunday after church, I was finally ready--after a weekend packed with performances--to truly nurture my hideous cold. I was going to lie in bed all day, alternating between napping and reading. I despise being sick, but when one can be sick all day because her fabulous husband is taking care of everything, well, it's not really so terrible. Not so terrible, that is, until I discovered that I had about 10 pages left in my current book--and nothing else to read!

Now that is tragedy. I actually considered going to the library, but I was too sick for that trip. And we do have an entire house full of books. (It's times like this that I wish I had the re-reading gene.) So anyway, 1stSon2Dad2Three has been begging me to consider adding A River Runs Through It to our spring reading for American Literature, and we just happened to have a copy, and so I read it.

And I feel as if I need to apologize before I write my review. I realize that this has become known as an American classic, and it's been called the "greatest fishing book ever written." But it just didn't do a whole lot for me. Now let me defend myself a little bit:
* First, I don't get fishing. I grew up on a huge lake in upstate New York, and everyone fished. Everyone except for the people in sailboats, like me. I understand that fishing is its own world, and fly fishing is another world of its own, and all that. But I have this Block up that says, "Fishing. Snore."
* Second, I was sick when I was reading, and so my concentration levels weren't at their best. (But I still won't read this book again, no matter how much you try to convince me that I'm missing out on one of the best pieces of literature ever written.)

This memoir is actually two novellas and a short story. The main one is the story of his family and the bond of fly fishing that drew them into each other's lives again and again. Ultimately, though, it doesn't save them. The other two stories come from Macclean's days working for the forestry service in his late teens and early 20s. I couldn't savor the time and place. Macclean's writing style was a bit too jumbled for me (or was it that cold medicine?). But there were moments of sheer beauty, like this:

"I lay there watching mountains until they made me well. I knew that, when needed, mountains would move for me."
Now that is sheer poetry. And there's a lot more poetry like that in the book, but it's just all about fishing imagery, and--see excuse #1. If there were more mountains and fewer fish, I might have been more involved in the stories.

And so, no, 1stSon2Dad2Three, we won't be reading this in class. But not because I personally didn't love it. As I tell my students, you don't have to love a piece of literature for it to be considered a classic. I don't love all the classics by any means, and this happens to be one of them. We won't read it in class simply--and is often the case with 20th century writers-- because there are too many expletives and graphic scenes to which parents would object. Otherwise, we would have read it. I would have enjoyed the challenge.

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