Jim Harrison – “The English Major” Book Review

| September 15, 2012

I am no literary expert, and don’t have the skins on the wall to rate myself as a reviewer of writers of the caliber of Jim Harrison. However, you know him from the fly fishing writing and movie world, among so many other worlds, and so it falls on the normal old guy to try and lead you through the library and tilt a title out from the rows of books and inspire you to invest your valuable time in reading things that can sometimes be slightly “off topic.”

The English Major is about a late-midlife crisis, a road trip where the protagonist, Cliff, has been outcast by his ex-wife and taken in (literally) by a student of his from his former life as an english professor. Lately, Cliff passed time as a farmer in Michigan, and with his dog (as always a Harrison trademark) Cliff had developed farm routines that he reminisces about on his journey.

If you are expecting a long fly fishing descriptive forget about it. If you expect a Kourac journey you’ll be disappointed. Cliff has taken a beating by his wife, is mostly dominated by his “horny old man” brain, some drinking and an occasional meal worthy of description.

SO, it’s not what Harrison writes about, but how he writes. Sentences can go slightly long, and punctuation lacking, but all that seems wrong actually reads right. Reading Harrison is like sharing a $60-dollar bottle of wine. You’ve had plenty of wine, but this … this tastes like a $60-dollar bottle.

At one point Cliff recalls a conversation with his doctor friend on how “dogs and children get that quizzical look in their eye just before they die.” Whoa. That one will stick with you.

As Cliff makes his way around the western half of the US, he’s electronically hounded by his ex-wife, gay son and the student he left behind in Montana. It’s not even a love-hate relationship between Cliff and cell phones. He flushes one, and does his best to ignore the one in the car his son purchased for him when he was in San Francisco. We can relate.

Ostensibly, Cliff’s travel goal is to rename all states and state birds, throwing out each state puzzle piece once he has passed through that state. Sometimes he forgets.

Cliff does get around to fly fishing, and it’s brief but exceptionally streamlined and natural. It’s just enough to make you want more, and start going down the bibliography looking for another taste.

I would give away the ending, but then you wouldn’t take the time to read it. It’s a good book worthy of an electronic read if nothing else.

Wolf: A False Memoir (1971)
A Good Day to Die (1973)
Farmer (1976)
Legends of the Fall (Three novellas: “Revenge,” “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” and “Legends of the Fall”) (1979)
Warlock (1981)
Sundog: The Story of an American Foreman, Robert Corvus Strang (1984)
Dalva (1988)
The Woman Lit By Fireflies (Three novellas: “Brown Dog,” “Sunset Limited,” and “The Woman Lit by Fireflies”) (1990)
Julip (Three novellas: “Julip,” “The Seven-Ounce Man,” and “The Beige Dolorosa”) (1994)
The Road Home (1998)
The Beast God Forgot to Invent (Three novellas: “The Beast God Forgot to Invent,” “Westward Ho,” and “I Forgot to Go to Spain”) (2000)
True North (2004)
The Summer He Didn’t Die (Three novellas: “The Summer He Didn’t Die,” “Republican Wives,” and “Tracking”) (2005)
Returning To Earth (Grove Press – January 2007)
The English Major (2008)
The Farmer’s Daughter (2009)
The Great Leader (2011)


Just Before Dark: Collected Nonfiction (1991)
The Raw and the Cooked (1992) Dim Gray Bar Press ltd ed
The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand (2001)
Off to the Side: A Memoir (2002)
[edit]Children’s literature
The Boy Who Ran to the Woods (Illustrated by Tom Pohrt) (2000)


Plain Song (1965)
Walking (1967)
Locations (1968)
Outlyer and Ghazals (1971)
Letters to Yesenin (1973)
Returning to Earth (Court Street Chapbook Series) (1977)
Selected and New Poems, 1961-1981 (Drawings by Russell Chatham) (1981)
Natural World: A Bestiary (1982)
The Theory & Practice of Rivers (1986)
The Theory & Practice of Rivers and New Poems (1989)
After Ikkyu and Other Poems (1996)
The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (with Ted Kooser) (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)
Livingston Suite (Illustrated by Greg Keeler) (2005)
Saving Daylight (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
Songs of Unreason (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)

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Category: Literature, Writing

About the Author ()

https://www.shannondrawe.com is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

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