It’s the birthday of travel writer and novelist Jonathan Raban (books by this author), born in Norfolk, England (1942). He started out as a professor, and he wrote several books of academic criticism before deciding to make a living as a freelance critic and travel writer. His first major book came out in 1974 — Soft City, about the differences between living in New York and London.
He grew up in an aristocratic English household, but as a young boy he began reading all the American books he could get his hands on. His favorite book was Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). There was a small stream about four feet across at the end of Raban’s street, and he used to wade in it and pretend it was the Mississippi River.
In 1979, he flew into St. Paul, Minnesota, bought a tiny boat, and set off down the Mississippi to New Orleans. He wrote about the experience in Old Glory: An American Voyage (1981). He wrote about everything he saw and everyone he met; he said, “The plot would be written by the current of the river … where the river meandered so would the book.”
And he said, “Good travel books are novels at heart.”