John N. Maclean’s ‘Home Waters’ Finds New Home at UNH Milne Collection

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Elizabeth Slomba who is the curator of the Milne Collection at the University of New Hampshire library is pictured with George Liset.

By George Liset

    When it comes to fly fishing, there are a myriad of rabbit holes to go down. Whether it is tying flies, making or collecting fly rods and other paraphernalia or just visiting and fishing exotic waters; the possibilities are endless. I have a touch of the above, but my real penchant is collecting fly fishing literature. I have an office full of books piled high and deep.

     One of my favorite reads is “A River Runs Through it, and Other Stories” by Norman Maclean. It was a book I recommended to my readers earlier this past summer. It talks about fathers and sons, brothers, religion and fly fishing. As fly fishing author John Gierach said about “A River Runs through It”: “I’d been fly fishing for a number of years when, in 1976,  an obscure little book called ‘A River Runs Through it and Other Stories,’ by Norman Maclean, appeared from the University of Chicago Press. By then I had it bad, and it didn’t surprise me at all to hear Maclean equate fly fishing with religion. What did surprise me was that some people thought he was kidding.”

    Then I received my issue of Trout Magazine which featured an article on John Maclean, Norman’s son. The article mentioned two recent books John had written about fly fishing. It had an email address where you could order the books. I forwarded John my article and mentioned my interest in purchasing his books. John replied that I had an “interesting” list of book choices. I mentioned that my list featured mostly local authors who had information about fishing in the New England waters. This began a conversation on books.

    John worked for the Chicago Tribune in their Washington bureau and would become the Tribune’s diplomatic correspondent and covered Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. John would spend summers at their family cabin at Seeley Lake in Montana. It was here that John was inspired to write “Home Waters,” a memoir of family and a river.

    I have read “Home Waters” twice since I received my copy. The first time for the entertainment value, the second time I read it was to understand where the heart and soul of a book comes from. “Home Waters” is a definite compendium to “A River Runs Through It.” They will become inseparable to a lover of literature.

     John also wrote the foreword for a centennial edition of Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River.” This forward is not your typical ‘read this book because it is good.’ John gives an in-depth history of the development of Hemingway’s story which features Nick Adams. I hope this book finds its way into Literature classrooms.

    I felt these two volumes needed to be a part of a special collection, so I called Elizabeth Slomba who is the curator of the Milne Collection at the University of New Hampshire library. The Milne collection is the third largest collection of fly fishing books in the country behind only Montana State and Penn State. I met Elizabeth to donate a signed copy of each book to the collection.

    As we sat in a sunlit corner of the collection room, I handed Elizabeth the books. There was a reverence to Elizabeth handling the books. Much like a fly fisher handling a Brook Trout in fall colors. “Beautiful” was the first word uttered after admiring the books. I shared the conversations I had with John with Elizabeth.

    Our conversation led to what makes a book collectible.  Elizabeth mentioned rarity and provenance. Elizabeth mentioned she is always looking to expand the collection with fly fishing books, manuscripts and even pictures and maps. Elizabeth can be reached at So, let’s go Wildcats! Beat Penn State!

 George Liset of Dover is an award-winning outdoor writer and avid fly fisherman who shares insights of his time on the water exploring New Hampshire streams and rivers as well of those around New England. George is a graduate of Wheaton College, Illinois, and the University of New Hampshire. His column Writing on the Fly has been honored by the New England Press Association and the New Hampshire Press Association.

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