A book that like, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, describes some of the human dramas you don’t read about in tourist brochures
Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. By Geoff Dyer. Vintage, 257 pp., $13, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Great travel writers have always known that the landscape of the human mind is more fascinating than any sunset. A stellar example is Geoffrey Dyer, an award-winning journalist and novelist who lives in London but takes the world at large as his home.
Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It is nominally a collection of 11 fictionalized accounts of trips to places that include Libya, Cambodia, Amsterdam, Miami, and Detroit. But Dyer is his own best subject, and he knows it. So he views his life as unsparingly as ruined temples or Art Deco lobbies. An observation he makes in an essay on New Orleans before the Fall sets the tone for this witty and perceptive book: “Living as I have, in many different cities, in different countries, I’ve got used to making new friends at an age when many people are living off the diminishing stockpile amassed at university, when they were 19 or 20.” It is, he adds, “one of the things about things about the way I’ve lived that has made me happiest,” and it’s one of things that may make readers happiest, too.
Best line: Dyer’s chapter on New Orleans describes a 1991 visit that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, reads like an elegy for an eccentric grande dame with undertones of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Sample line: “At first it was fun, Mardi Gras. I liked the sport of trying to catch stuff – plastic beakers, beads, and other trinkets, rubbish really – thrown from the crazy floats inching through the crowded streets. It was like a cross between basketball and being in a mob of refugees trying scrambling for food rations thrown by soldiers.”
Worst line: The title. It reflects an exchange Dyer says he had with a woman at a New Age-y resort on the Thai island of Ko Pha-Nagan, famous for “full moon parties” that resemble drug-and-alcohol–fueled bacchanals on a beach. “I have an idea for a self-help book,” Dyer says he told his companion. “Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It.” “But you can’t be bothered to write it, right?” his she replied. Some people would argue that the title is the best line in that it perfectly exemplifies part of Dyer’s appeal: He’s a superb stylist who’s always bringing up things that have nothing and everything to do with the places he visits. But you can’t help but think that from a marketing point of view this title was a disaster, a joke so oblique that it has kept many people who might love this collection from finding their way to it while attracting also people who want a book about yoga, which it is not.
Recommended if … you like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and other semi-fictionalized books that define places through the people who inhabit them.
Caveat lector: Dyer doesn’t say how much of the material in this book is invented. He seems not to have made up any facts about places he visits but may include imaginary conversations. The people he meets have a way of always coming up with the punch lines for his jokes at the exact moment they’re needed.
Published: January 2003 (Pantheon hardcover), January 2004 (Vintage paperback).
Furthermore: Dyer is the author of three novels and several books that his publisher aptly calls “genre-defying.” They include D.H. Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence (North Point, $13, paperback), which was finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.