One of the stores in Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it is about a trip to Cambodia. I have read this story several times, and yet, each time I read it, it is shocking in its details and how pointless it all seems. Geoff Dyer is a dead brilliant writer-reading him makes me both want to write, and to give up writing as I will never be as good at it as he is. He sprinkles his writing with quotations and speaks as if he was there when Auden decided to say that Sunsets are only good for about thirty minutes.
The Cambodia piece is a kind of anti-travel article, where as a normal travel article makes you want to go somewhere-Geoff Dyer makes you want to nuke it off the face of the earth just to put it out of its misery. I’ve had this feeling before, when I read The Sex Lives of Cannibals-a really wonderful anti-travel book. Reading about Cambodia brings out The Imperialist in me, I want to go there and build roads and Wal-Marts and Starbucks and Universities and put an internet connection in every house-but I would have to go and build the houses first. Of course, Imperialism is what did them in to start with.
Cambodia, as described by Geoff Dyer, is one of those Hell on Earth kind of places.
But he does find his way to Angkor Wat and the other ancient temples, which are pretty much the only reason anyone one would ever venture into Cambodia. My favorite anit-traveler is Anthony Bourdain-he went to Cambodia and stayed in a room with blood stains on the walls. Oh and the food was horrid as well. And the roads were terrible. And there was just the slightest possibility of being killed at any moment.
The Geoff Dyer story ends with our hero buying a Coke from a legless boy who looks to be twelve, but is in fact, seventeen. There is a titanic battle of wills as he refuses to buy a Coke form a girl-who feels greatly cheated that he bought a Coke from the legless boy instead of her. There is talk about how the boy lost his legs to a landmine, as so many people in that part of the world do.
Reading Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It is kind of like listening to Howard Stern-it is sort of interesting, but you get the feeling that anyone-and I mean anyone, could be doing it. Geoff Dyer tells about traveling to amazing places and doing mundane things. Just as we all do-I went to London and visited Thrift stores-but I never got around to writing an article about it. Geoff Dyer would have, and he would have managed to fill it with quotes and a seeming great import. There is a feeling that something is about to happen in these little stories-but somehow it never does.
In novels and movies-everything has to be relevant. If it is mentioned in passing that a character is a wiz at math, you can bet the farm that a math problem will need to be solved to save their lives. In Geoff Dyer’s little tales-he just thought you might like to know someone was good at math and never mentions it again.
So there is a refreshing lack of structure to these essays-mundane events are given the weight and feel of great doings. Each story leads toward a great revelation-but then there is no revelation. Another part of Geoff’s style is to bombard with irrelevant and pointless information-like this place reminds me of that place where we met this guy before heading to some other place with some other guy. There are lot of sentences which feature the names of people and places in rapid fire confusion.
And yet these odd little snippets of pointlessness are fun to read. If there is humor here, it is of the British sort and I am not stiff upper lipped enough to get the jokes. Odd things happen amid the boring everyday things-but the mundane always wins out. And I think that is the point. Here is a fellow traveling to the literal ends of the earth, doing things that most of can only dream about-and he is telling us it is all totally boring.
Part of the charm of these essays is that Geoff is not afraid to use a lot of words. Most people in America have been brainwashed by Strunk and White:we are to omit needless words-and let’s be honest, in more cases, they are all needless. So we read our sentences and think, oh my, that is way too long, and we cut the length and the meaning into smaller and smaller bites that we hope the reading public can understand. Oddly, the reading public is perhaps the only place where long and complex sentences are understood. So Geoff’s rambling sentences and confusing bits of irrelevant information are a joy to read.
He also wants you to go out and but a pair of Tevas.
There is a bit of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it-but again, it is all boring sex, drugs, and rock and roll-so normal and common place that you think oh, everyone is like that. But really, Geoff Dyer is a one of a kind. This is a great little book.