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4.9 out of 5 stars45
4.9 out of 5 stars
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on 21 September 2000
I read this book for the first time at university when it was lent to me by an American exchange student. Everyone had written comments in the back of his copy stating how much they loved it. A few days later I was scrawling my own glowing tribute to one of the most moving and inspiring works of fiction I have ever had the fortune to read. When I visited Seattle a few years I was delighted to pick up a dusty old copy of the book in a sleepy, second hand bookstore. I found myself a quiet coffee shop and began the journey with Gus once again. Needless to say this well-worn and travelled paperback sits with pride of place on my bookshelf back in London. An absolute joy to read!
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on 27 April 1997
I read this book at the insistence of my boyfriend, an avid flyfisher and owner/operator of a fly fishing shop. Not being a fisherman, I approached the book with some hesitation as to whether I'd enjoy it. I found the story of the piscatorial and philosophical pursuits of a guy named Gus to be endearing, enlightening and entertaining. A knowledge or love of fishing is not required to enjoy the adventures of Gus nor the clever prose and talented use of language by David James Duncan. I believe just about anyone would like this book, whether they are a worm-dunker, dry fly purist or non-fisher. I plan on purchasing a copy for my father, a dreaded worm -dunker according to my boyfriend!
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on 24 July 1999
I have never read a book more than twice other than The River Why. Since reading it for the first time about 10 years ago I have read it about once a year and see something different every time. I thank the author for his work, it is no minor fluff in any way. Gus was and is me, he loves the same things I do, wild rivers, wild fish, and glumness. Many times over the years I have had questions answered or formed by the tale. Friendships have formed in my life with conversations of the stories and people that Duncan created. Thanks
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on 12 November 1998
The River Why has become a family favorite ever since the winter I read it aloud to our precocious kids.... who are still fond, 3 years later, of saying things like "got him!" or "witlesses" or "twinkies catch big ones!" They will even occasionally quote Isaak Walton as they hawker into the fire...
My thesis is that any book about a solitary young man's learning to see the entire world as a metaphor for fishing, only to be hooked himself by the power of love, while being funny, profound, serious, uproarious, symbolic, cathartic, and a love story about the world and the Fisher of Souls must be packing a wallop... and this one is.
The River Why was published by the Sierra Club, either in one-dimensional reflex, or in a sudden access of Light to an editor.... and it is a book about living in harmony with nature. But more than that, it's about aligning one's soul with what has been said, thought, felt, and done over the past few hundred years.
This is a book that has made me guffaw, cry, and, always, think. I re-read it every couple of years with joy... and wish that to every reader who ventures on the trout-laden waters of the River Why.
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on 29 January 2013
I don't care if 42 of these reviews are anonymous - take it from me this is an awe-inspiring book.

I have never fished, have no particular interest in fishing or indeed know anything about it, but there again this isn't really a book about fishing although it does have a lot of fishing content.

I said to my book club members, when we came to review this book, chosen by me, that I felt enriched for having read it... and I do. The characters are so brilliantly written, they practically jump out of the page at you. It is a non-stop, brilliantly written story about a man, Gus, needing to discover who he is. He has a great many adventures some of which had me crying with laughter.

This is a book like no other I have ever read and I'd be lying if I said it was an easy read, it's not, but persevere because it is a beautiful, witty book with an incredibly creative use of our wonderful language.
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on 13 March 1998
Duncan has taken the microcosm of the angling world and expanded it into the macrocosm of being. By creating something out of thin air, by making analogies of mundane activities like fishing, with lofty concepts such as religion, we get obvious insights into religion. We all develop these mental structures that resemble the chitinous shells of crayfish and lobsters. We need them. We are protected by them. Finally, Duncan proposes that they are real, and his is made of love. My favorite section of the book is when Gus stumbles upon the beautiful creature Eddy, fishing from a tree. This whole episode and it's final conclusion is one of those Hornblower type situations that make me raise my fist and say YES! On both sides, IT'S THE UNSEEN HEROS BEING SEEN BEING A HERO WITHOUT KNOWING ANYBODY IS WATCHING. Maybe this is the way to make a contribution to environmentalism. Is Gus something like Silas Marner? Is Duncan something like George Eliot? Are Silas Marner and The River Why saying the same thing and do I like the River Why better because I can relate to it more? The difference between the community that Gus finally embraces and the community that Silas Marner finally embraces is that Gus's community has been through the crucible of time and experience. Gus's community, perhaps with the exception of the farmer family, is made up of people who have made conscious decisions, choices, about their lifestyles. That's the difference, and that is why I can relate to it more. ALL of these people have had the benifit or misfortune to see firsthand what time can do. Silas Marner's village people were static. We can't go to Silas' village because it doesn't exist anymore.
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on 20 May 1999
I first read this book as a teenager in the mid-70's and it has haunted me ever since.For some reason it was unavailable from my public library in Clapham, south London, but I always remembered reading it one summer in Lancashire over twenty years ago. I have rediscovered it today, via Amazon, and I am going to order it immediately. It is a seminal work - an example of great American literature.
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on 3 June 1999
What a beautiful, beautiful book. I absolutely loved Duncan's humor and wisdom in the novel. I have never read an author who writes anything like him. I think I'll remember some of his subplots for a long time to come. Dreefees, Hemingway, Bill Bob, H20, and Descartes to name a few. This novel is easily one of my Top Ten favorites. Next up: The Brother's K...
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on 31 May 1999
It was first read to me by my 11th grade Chemistry teacher. Although it had nothing to do with chemistry, it contained some of the most valuable things I ever learned in that class. Clearly I am no chemist, and I am no fisherman either. But the book is not about fishing, it is about life, and that is the most important lesson of all.
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on 13 May 1999
This is the only book that I've ever read that, when finished, I immediately started over and read it again. The book is about fishing. Having said that, I should add that it's the funniest thing I ever read. It's also deadly serious. It's a metaphysical journey that has to be read to be appreciated. I knew when I sat down to write this that I couldn't do it justice but I'm plowing ahead in the hope that my comments will get someone else to read it. I was so taken by it that I've read everything else Duncan has written. He's a powerful voice for the natural world. More than that, he's a poet for all of us. I seem to remember that this is the first work of fiction that Sierra Club published. That alone said much. Last I heard Duncan was living in Montana fighting the good fight against mining ruining the Big Blackfoot River. Buy the book. It might help finance his river-saving ventures.
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