One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike


Brian Doyle (edited by David James Duncan, H. Emerson Blake, and Kathleen Yale)


Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date:

December 3, 2019




272 pages


Not many people knew about Brian Doyle’s work, but he had a unique effect on those who did read him. During his lifetime (cut short by cancer in 2017), Doyle wrote fiction, poetry, essays, and edited various pieces for Portland magazine. His work won many awards, but as David James Duncan writes in his introduction, much of it got released through “very small religious publishers” and therefore mass audiences rarely noticed Doyle’s work. Those who did read him praised him highly, even when they didn’t share his worldview. Duncan notes poet Mary Oliver and atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens both included Doyle’s work in their Best American Essays collections, quite an achievement for a Catholic writer. One Long River of Song collects some of Doyle’s best nonfiction, including pieces that combine poetry and prose into what Doyle liked to call “proems.” In these pieces, Doyle reflects on many areas of life and spirituality, including:

  • Writing
  • Childhood
  • Parenting and families
  • The human body
  • The divine presence in nature
  • Politics
  • Relating to God

This isn’t a book for everyone. For one thing, it’s an anthology containing wildly different pieces from across Doyle’s career, which appeal to different tastes. Conservative readers likely won’t agree with Doyle’s political essays, but they may enjoy his reflections on nature and animals. For another thing, many of the pieces are creative nonfiction, which can annoy readers who like essays that spell out their conclusions. One could easily compare these pieces to Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz, reflections on God that seem irreverent until you appreciate the overall picture the author is creating.

Those who can appreciate Doyle will enjoy what they find. He paints engaging pictures of what it feels like to take joy in the created world and look for God’s presence behind the scenes. His honest reflections on writing and living life are equally touching, though in a very different way. An excellent book for people who look for God’s presence in the little things we easily miss.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians looking for creative nonfiction pieces about creation, parenting and families from a Christian perspective.

Christian Impact

While theologically conservative readers won’t care for Doyle’s essays on gay rights and gun control, his reflections on other topics will help many see what it means to find God in the everyday world.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike

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The Evangelical Church Library Association, founded in 1970, is a fellowship of Christian churches, schools, and individuals. This account is managed by the ECLA Web Team.

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