It’s the birthday of writer who once said, “A novel captures the soul of people.” That’s Paul Theroux (books by this author), born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). Theroux is best known for novels like The Mosquito Coast (1981), about 14-year-old Charlie Fox, whose irreverent, inventor father suddenly moves the entire family from Massachusetts to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras. It was later made into a movie starring Harrison Ford as the father.
Theroux’s first novel, Waldo (1967), was published in 1967. He followed up with The Consul’s File (1972), and then found himself out of ideas for fiction. He’d always been a traveler, so he decided to get on a train in Great Britain and see what happened. Then he got on another train, and another, and found himself in Japan. That experience became his book The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), which is considered a classic in the travel writing genre.
When he travels, Theroux writes in small notebooks, and then composes first drafts in longhand on Pocket Diamond pads of paper. At 74-years-old, he spent two and half years driving more than 25,000 miles through Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina for his book Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (2015), a portrait of poverty, culture, and hope. On the road, people called him Mr. Thorax and he delighted in breakfasting on Froot Loops in Styrofoam bowls in cheap chain motels. He said, “I like being anonymous. I’d hate having a recognizable name or face.”
He says: “The difference between travel and tourism is the difference between walking in the hot sun to meet an angry person who is going to insult me and then tell me his amazing story, and lying in the sun sipping a cool drink and reading, say, Death in Venice. The first is more profitable; the second more pleasant. Both are enlightening.”