Tag Archives: geoff dyer

Ethan Nosowsky Interview

Some good stuff here in this interview with Graywolf editor Ethan Nosowsky, whose work you’ve most recently seen in Geoff Dyer’s Otherwise Known as the Human Condition.

Here are some quotes that caught my eye:

I’ve seen authors who are highly engaged in social media, and I’m not sure it’s helped sell twenty more books.

The sales numbers for a well-reviewed, voice-driven literary novel are not radically different for that kind of book than they were fifteen years ago, but you have to work a lot harder to get that number, and you’re reaching out to a lot of places that didn’t exist fifteen years ago. I think in the last five years, there are a lot more viable and authoritative online review media and web magazines.

Whether it was thirty years ago or today, you want your authors to do as much publicity as they can stomach. You should always do as much as you have energy for. But publishing has never been a cookie cutter industry.

The other thing is that for certain kinds of books that might be more literary or darker or unconventional in some way, they can get lost on a larger list at one of the larger houses. They tend to stand out more on our list and we know what to do with them, how to handle them. Bigger houses tend to print the book rather than publish it. For certain books where we might be stretching to compete with a moderate advance at a larger house, it means a lot to us, and it might get published more aggressively by us.

Editing very rarely happens during the workday.

On Off-Base Reviews

Steve Mitchelmore has a response to my response to Eliot Weinberger’s review of What Ever Happened to Modernism. It’s worth taking a look at.

Another odd review, which I’ve just discovered, was Scott Sherman’s response to Geoff Dyer’s body of work in The Nation, occasioned by the publication of Otherwise Known as the Human Condition a few months ago.

This gloss on Out of Sheer Rage tells me that Sherman doesn’t get Dyer:

What explains Out of Sheer Rage’s cult popularity? Surely there are finer books on procrastination and the hazards of the literary enterprise. (See Martin Amis’s The Information or Jonathan Raban’s For Love and Money.) When Out of Sheer Rage was published, memoirs were in vogue: a first-person account of “wrestling with D.H. Lawrence” may have appealed to highbrow sensibilities bored by run-of-the-mill accounts (real or invented) of incest, divorce, substance abuse and alcoholism. The author holds little back: the book contains too much Dyer and not enough Lawrence. We learn about Dyer’s athlete’s foot, his bad knee, his aching back and his eczema; his deep desire to live in San Francisco and his disgust for the residents of Oxford; and his in-flight sexual fantasies (“Often in planes I find myself thinking of having sex with the flight attendant: pushing my hand up between her legs as she walks past, fucking in the toilet: standard in-flight porno stuff”). In such passages the slacker becomes a buffoon.

In reality, the entire book is about Lawrence, just not in a way Sherman seems to understand. Dyer isn’t out to write literary criticism as one might in a book review, where the critic’s relationship to the text is obvious and clear. He’s doing something more along the lines of responding to Lawrence by enacting his understanding of Lawrence; hence so many bits “about Dyer” and so little of what would generally be construed as literary criticism.

This is something that many great writers/critics have done; the ones that come to mind immediately are Enrique Vila-Matas, Harold Bloom (in certain of his books), Roland Barthes, Jonathan Raban, David Foster Wallace, William Empson, Borges. I don’t think it’s too much to say that the reason they’ve survived and have been hugely influential is that they don’t write criticism in anything resembling an academic manner.

That Sherman doesn’t really get Dyer’s method is made clear in the introduction to the piece:

Dyer knows that he has managed a rare feat on Grub Street: in an age of academic specialization and journalistic decay, he has earned a living by the poise and productivity of his pen. “As I grew older I came increasingly to feel that my working life should be virtually synonymous with living my life as I wanted, irrespective of whether I was doing any work,” he declared in the introduction to his 1999 essay collection Anglo-English Attitudes. “Effectively, as my American publisher put it, I had found a way of being paid for leading my life. I liked that a lot, naturally.” But freedom entails risks; one wonders if Dyer—whose literary persona is an uneasy synthesis of idler and intellectual—has ranged too widely and written too much. Of his dozen books, only one is first-rate; a handful of the rest are worthy of the bookshelf. Dyer is extremely gifted, but he is also a writer in search of his ideal subject. It is not Geoff Dyer, contrary to what Dyer might think.

Essentially: Congratulations, Dyer, on succeeding in writing without becoming an academic. Now become an academic!

Of course, finding an “ideal subject” would be as poisonous as anything could be to a writer like Dyer, who seems to write on a subject for the purpose of exorcising it from his consciousness, so that he can then move on to the next subject. Moreover, this is not necessary. If you read Dyer’s work (as Sherman seems to have done) you will notice that there’s a common thread, a kind of performance of identity/criticism most frequently achieved through the process of riffing and digression. This is Dyer’s “ideal subject,” and I’m glad that I see no reason why he would take the advice of the likes of Sherman and abandon it.

Geoff Dyer and Colin Marshall

Dyer interviewed on The Marketplace of Ideas.

“My parents’ view of the world was just too simple: it was suited to the Depression but not to the 1970s,” Geoff Dyer writes in “On Being an Only Child”, one of Otherwise Known as the Human Condition’s personal pieces. “I, on the other hand, had the contemporary idea that the world owed me a living.” As an only child myself, I suppose I can relate to that. I’ve long wanted to speak with him on this show, not just because he speaks for us only children — so I assume — but because he speaks for us fans of Tarkovsky, us dedicated listeners of ECM records, and us real-job-avoiders — again, so I assume. I met up with him on the weekend of the 2011 Los Angeles TImes Festival of books; we discussed these matters and others. (Other matters include achieving writerly independence of subjects, whether Susan Sontag knew everything or nothing, the perks of apoliticality, and how to defeat Pico Iyer at ping-pong.)

The Shorter List Would Have Been Who He Didn’t Quote


Then The Observer just started writing down names every time Mr. Dyer quoted someone, which happened roughly every three minutes, beginning with the people he quoted in the essay he read about going to the couture shows in Paris from his new collection, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, and then moving on to the writers he quoted from memory in the Q and A.

Here is the list, which took up most of the receipt and therefore is not in any particular order, and probably not even exhaustive:

1. Mark Doty (who provided the following epigraph to Mr. Dyer’s essay on the couture shows: “The world’s made fabulous / by fabulous clothes.”)

2. Frank Gehry

3. Philip Larkin

4. Don Delillo (Mr. Dyer quoted the following: “her face conveyed the suggestion of lifelong bereavement over the death of a pet rabbit.”)

5. Jim Morrison

6. Nietzsche

7. D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers

8. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night

9. Nicholson Baker

10. Tony Judt (who came up when Mr. Dyer commented on “the incredible regression in social mobility” in Britain.)

11. T.C. Boyle’s Budding Prospects

12. Albert Camus’ Lyrical and Critical Essays

13. Jonathan Franzen (Mr. Dyer recalled something a friend said about Mr. Franzen: “he suffers so you don’t have to.”)

14. Sebastian Faulks

15. Thomas Mann

16. “Borgesian”

17. Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations

18. Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: “I like her tone.”

19. Julian Barnes

20. Martin Amis

21. Alan Hollinghurst (Mr. Dyer called him “the greatest straight-down-the-line English novelist,” remembering with particular fondness the description, “knob-flaunting speedo.”)

22. Renata Adler’s Speedboat

23. John Updike

24. Thomas Bernhardt

Popular Amazon Purchases, January – April 2011

As I do every so often on this site, time to run down popular purchases made on Amazon by readers of Conversational Reading. (For previous reader faves, see here.)

Here we go, in order to sales rank:

Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

No surprises that, by far, the most popular item purchased in the past few months has been the subject of the current Big Read. Thanks to everyone who is participating!

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Self-published phenom A Naked Singularity continues to be a popular book with readers of this site. And with The Quarterly Conversation previewing an excerpt from his new book, Personae, perhaps we’ll have another favorite.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Wallace fans are die-hards. Despite my reservations about this book, readers of this site are still snapping up Wallace’s final offering.

Zone by Mathias Enard

My endorsement of this massive, challenging French novel (and my interview with its translator) seems to have spurred some readers of this site. Good for them!

The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

This is one of the books I’ve featured on my Interesting New Books in 2011 page. Plus Sorokin is a pretty big deal, and this is probably his biggest and best book.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Chalk up another one to a combination of a big author and a listing on the Interesting Books page. But how ugly is this cover?

“A” by Louis Zukofsky

This one pretty clearly goes back to this post I did about “the Ulysses of poetry.”

The Preparation of the Novel by Roland Barthes

I would attribute this to my interview with the book’s translator, and this blog’s great following among Barthesians everywhere.

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer

Some recent discussion of this book plus a listing on the Interesting New Books page probably did the trick.

For previous reader faves, see here.

Dyer Slams Wallace in Prospect

I have great admiration for Geoff Dyer as a critic, so I’m going to repress the urge to call this David Foster Wallace mini-takedown a contrived piece of literary critical theater. The fact is that he’s better than that. But the fact also is that this is all too predictable.

  • Hot new literary commodity hits the scene
  • Critics collectively bathe it in a flurry of gushy accolade
  • Grouchy critic comes along and tells them all to calm down
  • Instant controversy!
  • (And not to mention, Dyer is also on a book tour selling his latest book at the moment.)

This, minus the book tour, was pretty much exactly what happened with Freedom, and now with Pale King it’s beginning to feel very scripted, in the way that the latest season of Survivor, or Glee, or any other show purporting to depict an obviously constructed reality becomes predictable in its unpredictableness.

Anyway, grouchy tirade over. Dyer’s critique seems to have something to do with Wallace’s style, which he seems to think is excessively showy and gimmicky. Although he doesn’t really write enough to get very precise in his critique, so maybe he’ll follow this up some day with something more valid.

One other thing: it’s weirdly interesting that he finds “Host” an “apotheosis of unreadability,” since I’ve always considered that essay one of Wallace’s tightest. However, I have noticed many older friends of mine–even those who otherwise like Wallace–seem to think as Dyer does about “Host.” Maybe it’s a generational thing.

I guess it’s a question of tone. I react against the variously contrived sloppinesses of all those “sort ofs” and “kind ofs” in tandem with, sometimes followed by, the magisterial flamboyant (“Existentiovoyeuristic conundra notwithstanding”). Or the grunge affectation of the double “though” in: “There are big differences between Agassi’s and Joyce’s games, though. Though Joyce…” It’s not that I dislike the extravagance, the excess, the beanie-baroque, the phat loquacity. They just bug the crap out of me. As do the obsessive parenthesising, insistent italicising, footnote-generating footnotes and typographical gimmickry that reaches a kind of apotheosis of unreadability in “Host,” from Consider the Lobster.

As a reminder, if you’ve enjoyed this site, I’m asking for donations this week.

Dyered on All Sides

I’ve barely had a chance to review the latest Dyer than word comes that there is more Dyer in the works.

Dyer’s forthcoming book, “Zona,” about Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker,” will be published next year by Pantheon.

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition

My review of Dyer’s latest was published yesterday at B&N. Full review here.

Quote here:

One of Dyer’s strengths as a critic is to exude an honesty that inspires confidence. So it is that he begins Otherwise Known by immediately admitting that these omnibus collections have something intrinsically spurious about them: “This kind of put-together is considered a pretty low form of book, barely a book at all.” Yet that admission is barely made before Dyer flips it on its back, confiding that he has long aspired toward one of these fat, stately volumes, wanting it ever since he began publishing. His preference comes from his own experience: “If I see a piece by a writer I admire in a paper I very rarely read it,” he says, instead waiting to read it in a book of collected writings. Not only that, but the form of the omnibus volume fits his aesthetic perfectly: “It was, precisely, the unruly range of my concerns that I was keen to see represented in a single volume.”

Anyone who knows Dyer’s genre-defying, promiscuous works of nonfiction will understand his affection for an unruly range of concerns; moreover, in a digital age there’s a clear logic to this. With a critic like Dyer dispatching so many pieces on such wide-ranging topics to such diverse corners of the Internet, who can keep up? A collected works begins to like a supremely sedate, sensible way to go.

But it must be said that, as good and reasonable as this all sounds, one never quite loses the suspicion that Dyer was chuckling to himself as he wrote his introduction, or most of the pieces that follow . . .

Sante on Dyer

In the new BookForum, Luc Sante reviews Geoff Dyer’s new collected-writings book, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. I’ve got a review of this upcoming sometime soon at B&N.

I find a lot to agree with in Sante’s review, so why not mention one thing I somewhat disagree on:

The potential liabilities of an omnium-gatherum collection, on the other hand, are illustrated in the section called “Verbals,” which is devoted to book reviews and prefaces to works of literature. There are terrific things here, of course. His preface to Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers is unsurprisingly deep and heartfelt, and his tribute to Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon—an epic blend of travel narrative and history that cycles relentlessly between the past and the present (as of 1941) of the Balkans—claims another ancestor for his nonfiction, a book in which “it is impossible to say where sensation stops and cogitation begins.” It is dispiriting, therefore, to find in the midst of this a bunch of tepid reviews of tepid works—Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Don DeLillo’s Point Omega, for example—which appear nothing more than dutiful. Every writer who makes a living by writing has churned out this sort of thing on assignment, and sometimes an insight is hatched or a phrase turned in the course of it, but gathering them between covers is probably what made the unthemed single-author collection box-office poison in the first place. Besides which, Dyer’s own books are so much more interesting than some of the ones he reviews—you hardly expect him to hang out with a reactionary like McEwan (who has devoted himself to propping up the corpse of the “well-made” novel as if he were singlehandedly determined to prevent the sun from setting on the British Empire).

Of course Sante is absolutely right that Otherwise has a few items that could have been left out (pretty much any 500+ page collection of misc writings will), but I liked Dyer’s review of Atonement much more than Sante did. To me it was anything but dutiful; more like one of the (many) instances where Dyer surprises you and crafts an ingenious argument for a work you never would have expected him to get behind in a million years. And given the stand Dyer ends up taking in the review, to say that he was simply being “dutiful” would imply borderline misrepresentation on Dyer’s part. I’m certain he’s a better and more honest critic than that.

Some Geoff Dyer Links

Right now I’m reading Otherwise Known as the Human Condition for a review, and it reminds me of just what a good, versatile critic Geoff Dyer is.

So, since I’m in a Dyer mood right now, two recent Dyer links.

First, an excerpt from Otherwise, Dyer on a typically Dyeresque topic, reader’s block.

I find it increasingly difficult to read. This year I read fewer books than last year; last year I read fewer than the year before; the year before I read fewer than the year before that. The phenomenon of writer’s block is well known, but what I am suffering from is reader’s block. The condition is creeping rather than chronic, manifesting itself in different ways in different circumstances. On a trip to the Bahamas recently I regularly stopped myself reading because, whereas I could read a book anywhere, this was the only time I was likely to see sea so turquoise, sand so pink. Somewhat grandly, I call this the Mir syndrome, after the cosmonaut who said that he didn’t read a page of the book he’d taken to the space station because his spare moments were better spent gazing out of the window. . . .

And here’s Dyer on his “hero” Friedrich Nietzsche.

I keep waiting for my love of his writing to wear off, but it never does. Actually, love is not the right word – you can go on loving writers long after you’ve stopped reading them. I keep reading Nietzsche and I never cease to be astonished by his insight, his freshness, his brevity (deep problems treated like cold baths: in and out as quickly as possible), his profound plumbing of consciousness, even his “howlers” (as Cioran termed them). I suppose he’s a philosopher, but that seems a poor description . . .


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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