The acclaimed writer offers a collection of essays about America and Americana.
Arranged chronologically (1993–2010), these pieces chart Raban’s (Surveillance, 2007, etc.) move in 1990 from London to Seattle and show his various explorations of the geography, politics and sociology of his newly adopted land. In the introduction, he writes about his love of reading, crediting his mother for teaching the skill and instilling the desire and critic William Empson for showing him how to read deeply. (Empson reappears in Raban’s penultimate piece.) Throughout, Raban reveals the traits that have long endeared him to his readers—a curiosity about the quirkiness of people and places, a ferocious love for the land, an elegance (but never pretentiousness) of style, self-deprecation and an unusual ability to inhabit the imaginations of his interlocutors. In the forests around Seattle, for example, he displays his understanding of both loggers and tree-huggers, land-lovers and -developers. He understands resentments. In the title essay, readers may be amused to note that he records a visit to Forks, Wash., now world-famous as the setting for the Twilight novels. Throughout his American odyssey, Raban writes about Mark Twain, Puget Sound, the Mississippi River floods, the dams on the Columbia River, waves along the Oregon coast, the sailor Joshua Slocum, sailing, the evolving architecture of Seattle, Seahawks’ fans in Montana, the vicissitudes of Robert Lowell and prominent Republicans (George W. Bush, Sarah Palin) and the Tea Party, for whom he has slight regard. Occasionally, he leaps back to his native England to write of Philip Larkin and George IV. As in any such collection, some repetitiveness emerges, but never enough to annoy.
Full of ideas that move through the language with the grace of a well-captained sailboat.