Reading alters the appearance of a book. Once it has been read, it never looks the same again, and people leave their individual imprint on a book they have read. Once of the pleasures of reading is seeing this alteration on the pages, and the way, by reading it, you have made the book yours.—Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express
Paul Theroux is 75 today. The author of more than thirty novels (“The Mosquito Coast” is perhaps his most famous, as it was made into a Harrison Ford film in the 1980s), he is best known for his travel writing, and has written more than a dozen books about his world travels. He never flies to a destination but travels by train and/or bus in the company of those who live where he is, and he rarely has a destination. No “from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a week” or “80 days in Spain” type books, these are travel books that are different from Fodor’s guides or guides of any sort: there are no photos of the author in front of famous locations or meeting other famous writers. Often, there are no photos at all.
Theroux writes about travel, the journey itself, including any unpleasantnesses and any joys, and his ear for the uniquely idiomatic expression brings one into the mind of a place, if not its heart. His main rules for writers: get away from home, stay on the ground, travel alone. “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect,” is one of his best-known quotes, from an article he published in 1979.
His latest book, “Deep South,” was published to mixed reviews last fall. Any negative reviews seemed to be written by those who did not know that Theroux has presented himself in his own pages as a crotchety complainer since long before he was actually 75 and in possession of an earned crotchetiness. A recent interview:
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The Patent Act of 1790 became law on this date that year. It established this nation’s patent laws, and defined a patent as “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.” A successful patent applicant (the “patentee”) won “sole and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using and vending to others to be used” of his invention. It also established prices: the patentee “shall, before he receives his patent, pay the following fees to the several officers employed in making out and perfecting the same, to wit: For receiving and filing the petition, fifty cents; for filing specifications, per copy-sheet containing one hundred words, ten cents; for making out patent, two dollars; for affixing great seal, one dollar; for indorsing the day of delivering the same to the patentee, including all intermediate services, twenty cents.”
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Evelyn Waugh died 50 years ago today. Walker Evans died 41 years ago today. Sam Kinison died 24 years ago today. He is missed:
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The late Omar Sharif was born 84 years ago today. David Halberstam was born on this date in 1934.
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Max von Sydow is 87 today. John Madden is 80 today. Steven Seagal is 64. Anne Lamott is 62. Haley Joel Osment is 28.
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