Some people find travel broadening. Some people travel to relax and get away from it all. When Geoff Dyer travels, the world is like a million hammers, pounding him into himself, creating a strange and wonderful hall of mirrors that, while it can be trying -- even depressing -- is strangely exhilarating. That's the basic story and feel of Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It, Dyer's irrepressible but annoying memoir/travelogue, published in 2003.
Dyer is a thinker/writer. Thankfully, he has a comic's touch; sometimes he can be very funny indeed. Most of the humor comes out of the situations he, pathetic geek that he is, puts himself in. There are a couple of "jokes" which ring out discordantly, but overall, the humor is organic and tinged with some pretty deep, pretty depressing thinking.Nietzsche on the borscht belt. The chapters, culled from various essays, articles, web-forays, and a lifetime of scribbling, make a tapestry -- a soggy tapestry, but a pretty one nevertheless. That's because most of the time Dyer's traveling, the skies open up on him.
Even in Libya, smack in the Sahara desert, the skies open on him. In Detroit, he's so depressed he thinks the torrents have moved from outside the diner window to inside it as well -- until he discovers those drops on his eggs are his own tears. The venues, and characters, are amusing. Several psychos push Dyer into his melancholy: a vaguely homicidal drug addict in New Orleans, a supremely creepy if somewhat clichéd tour guide behind dark glasses. The tour jaunts through rave-ups in places as disparate as the tropical islands off Thailand and the urban decay of Detroit. Along the way he tries to enjoy Van Gogh paintings, muses on Russian art films (Tarkovsky's Stalker), melts into nothingness under the blazing Roman heat of August, quotes and knowingly misquotes poets and philosophers, and all the while tries to find a decent hotel. (He is, after all, a Brit -- and nobody does "oh, the indignity of traveling abroad" like the Brit travel writers). It's all in good fun, if digging yourself into a deep purple funk is your idea of fun.
All in all, Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It is a book about nothing that is at once impossibly annoying to read and impossible to put down. It's like Seinfeld in slow motion, without Kramer, on drugs. If that sounds like your cup of tea (or bowl of it?), give it a try. As for me, it makes me very curious to read some of Mr. Dyer's other forays, notably his studies on Lawrence, jazz, and the First World War. And it also makes me look forward to his upcoming tome, addressing his obsessions with photography.
'Til next time...
Mr. Krimstein is a professor, writer, cartoonist, father, and cool fella who lives in Chicago. So there.