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Old Glory, Jonathan Raban; 1981

Old Glory, Jonathan Raban; 1981
This classic book is based on Jonathan Raban's trip down the Mississippi, which he describes as more 'an imaginary river than a real one'. This book pays debt to Huckleberry Finn and is billed as  'a lonely quest to find a shape and meaning not only to the legendary river, but also to life itself.. it is at once a story of himself and the story of the river and its people'.  I read this in 1984 while in my mid 20s when I was crossing the USA myself (west to east in a camper-van, not north to south in a boat), in a period when I was wolfing down environmentally-based-adventure-travel-to-find-yourself books.  The book does what it says on the can.  Raban is easy to read and he provides a good idea of the scale and power of this river.

'The Mississippi was keeping its true nature hidden in more ways than one.  I was afloat on one river while the chart in front of me showed quite another.  The river I could see was a neat affair, lined on both banks by forest, so narrow that even I could have swum from shore to shore.  It looked no wider or more scary than the Serpentine in Hyde Park.  Only the chart revealed that the river was telling me lies.   On paper, it was three to four miles from bank to bank.  The wooded channel was just a single ,arbitrary path through an enormous maze of forest, sand and open water.  There it was, mapped in green and blue, a fantastically elaborate scribble of loops, scrolls dots and spurs; the river writing its signature in its inimitable gothic script........I had to exend my thumb and forefinger full out to measure it....four miles by three.....with the sun on the still water, it had the eerie brilliance of  dreamscape, with the jagged reflections of the stumps dancing on the looking-glass blue of the sky' (pp.127-8, 1983 Picador Edition)