This isn't a self-help book; it's a book about how Geoff Dyer could do with a little help. In mordantly funny and thought-provoking prose, the author of Out of Sheer Rage describes a life most of us would love to live--and how that life frustrates and aggravates him.
As he travels from Amsterdam to Cambodia, Rome to Indonesia, Libya to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert, Dyer flounders about in a sea of grievances, with fleeting moments of transcendental calm his only reward for living in a perpetual state of motion. But even as he recounts his side-splitting misadventures in each of these locales, Dyer is always able to sneak up and surprise you with insight into much more serious matters. Brilliantly riffing off our expectations of external and internal journeys, Dyer welcomes the reader as a companion, a fellow perambulator in search of something and nothing at the same time.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Dyer's ninth book (Out of Sheer Rage; Paris Trance), a collection of 11 personal essays covering his travels around the globe, begins in New Orleans when Dyer is in his late 20s and concludes in the Nevada desert some 20 years later. In between he touches ground in destinations such as Bali and Amsterdam, usually seeking a "peak experience." More often than not, he is disappointed in his quest, but makes engaging stories of many aimless walks, such as wandering stoned through Amsterdam in search of a lost hotel, touring the ruined Roman city of Leptis Magna, or stumbling upon a suicide on South Beach. Even more intriguing than the far-flung locales he describes-such as Cambodia, Libya and Thailand-are the seemingly pedestrian ones he makes exotic. His essay "The Rain Inside," on experiencing a near emotional breakdown at a techno music festival in Detroit, is a masterpiece, equal parts introspection and cutting observation. Though the moments and perceptions he records are fleeting, Dyer deliberately provides touchstones-repeat references to Auden; the durability of his Teva sandals-that mark a path through the book. Fittingly, it's only when he finds himself in the metaphorical nowhere of the TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) at the Burning Man Festival, that this postmodern pilgrim finally finds his place in the world. This original book from a genuine writer-a modern Montaigne-should provide serious readers with a lasting high.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 05, 2004
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Excerpt from Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer
In 1991 I lived for a while in New Orleans, in an apartment on Esplanade, just beyond the French Quarter, where from time to time British tourists are murdered for refusing to hand over their video cameras to the cracked-out muggers who live and work nearby. I never had any trouble--I've never owned a video camera, either--even though I walked everywhere at all times.
I'd decided to come to New Orleans after a girlfriend and I passed through, on our way to Los Angeles from New York. We were delivering a car, and though, usually, you are allowed only a few hundred miles more than it takes to drive cross-continent in a straight line, our car's original mileage had not been recorded, and so we zigzagged our way across the States, exceeding the normal distance by several thousand miles and thoroughly exhausting ourselves in the process. In the course of this frenzied itinerary we'd stayed only one night in New Orleans, but it--by which I mean the French Quarter rather than the city at large--seemed like the most perfect place in the world, and I vowed that when I next had a chunk of free time, I would return. I make such vows all the time without keeping them, but on this occasion, a year after first passing through, I returned to New Orleans to live for three months.
I spent the first few nights in the Rue Royal Inn while I looked for an apartment to rent. I hoped to find a place in the heart of the Quarter, somewhere with a balcony and rocking chairs and wind chimes, overlooking other places with rocking chairs and balconies, but I ended up on the dangerous fringes of the Quarter, in a place with a tiny balcony overlooking a vacant lot which seethed with unspecified threat as I walked home at night.
The only people I knew in New Orleans were James and Ian, a gay couple in their fifties, friends of an acquaintance of a woman I knew in London. They were extremely hospitable, but because they were a good deal older than I and because they both had AIDS and liked to live quietly, I settled quickly into a routine of work and solitude. In films, whenever a man moves to a new town--even if he has served a long jail term for murdering his wife--he soon meets a woman at the checkout of the local supermarket or at the diner where he has his first breakfast. I spent much of my thirties moving to new towns, towns where I knew no one, and I never met a woman in the supermarket or the Croissant d'Or, where I had breakfast on my first morning in New Orleans. Even though I did not meet a waitress at the aptly named Croissant d'Or, I continued to have breakfast there every day because they served the best almond croissants I had (and have) ever tasted. Some days it rained for days on end, the heaviest rain I had ever seen (I've seen worse since), but however hard it was raining I never missed my breakfast at the Croissant d'Or, partly because of the excellence of the croissants and coffee, but mainly because going there became part of the habitual rhythm of my day.
In the evenings I went to the bar across the road, the Port of Call, where I tried, unsuccessfully, to engage the barmaid in conversation while watching the Gulf War on CNN. On the night of the first air strikes against Baghdad, the bar was rowdy with excitement and foreboding. Yellow ribbons were tied around many of the trees on Esplanade, which I walked up every day on my way to the Croissant d'Or, where, as I ate my almond croissants, I liked to read the latest reports from the Gulf, either in the New York Times or in the local paper, whose name--the Louisiana something?--I have forgotten. After breakfast I walked home and worked for as long as I could, and then strolled through the Quarter, led on, it seemed, by the sound of wind chimes, which hung from almost every building. It was January but the weather was mild, and I often sat by the Mississippi reading about New Orleans and its history. Because the city is located at the mouth of the Mississippi, its foundations are in mud, and each year the buildings sink more deeply into it. As well as being warped by the sun and rotted by rain and humidity, many of the buildings in the Quarter sloped markedly as a result of subsidence. This straying from the vertical was complemented by a horizontal drift. The volume of detritus carried south by the Mississippi was such that the river was silting itself up and changing course so that, effectively, the city was moving. Every year the streets moved a fraction of an inch in relation to the river, subtly altering the geography of the town. Decatur Street, for example, where James and Ian lived, had moved several degrees from the position recorded on nineteenth-century maps.
As I sat by the Mississippi one afternoon, a freight rumbled past on the railroad track behind me, moving very slowly.