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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel

     

Yoga for People Who Can't
Be Bothered to Do It


by
Geoff Dyer


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It



Title: Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It
Author: Geoff Dyer
Genre: Travel
Written: 2003
Length: 257 pages
Availability: Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It - US
Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It - UK
Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It - Canada
Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do It - India
Reisen, um nicht anzukommen - Deutschland
Yoga para los que pasan del yoga - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : pieces from around the world, quite nicely done if a bit aimless

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 22/4/2003 Toby Clements
Evening Standard . 31/3/2003 Jerome Boyd Maunsell
The LA Times . 11/3/2003 Bernadette Murphy
London Rev. of Books . 25/9/2003 William Skidelsky
New Statesman . 21/4/2002 Helen Brown
The New Yorker . 3/2/2003 .
The NY Times B 24/1/2003 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. A 12/1/2003 Tony Horwitz
The Observer . 27/4/2003 Joanne O'Connor
San Francisco Chronicle A 2/2/2003 David Kipen
Sunday Telegraph . 13/4/2003 Christopher Tayler
Sydney Morning Herald . 19/7/2003 Geordie Williamson
The Washington Post A 6/2/2003 Jonathan Yardley


  Review Consensus:

  Impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "He is obviously not as lazy as he claims, and this strain of disingenuousness occasionally corrupts much of what is otherwise fresh and funny but above all generous about Dyer's writing." - Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph

  • "It says much for the subversive flavour of Dyer's approach that the best chapters are the least eventful ones. (...) By rights, this sequence of nonstories should not work as a whole. But, provided you are happy to loiter for long periods inside Dyer's head, the lack of thrills is more than compensated for by humour and oblique wisdom." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard

  • "Throughout the book, Dyer seems to be constructing an image of himself as a younger man. (...) Most of the time it's impossible not to like him. One reason for this is that he seems to be half aware of his own ridiculousness." - William Skidelsky, London Review of Books

  • "Dyer's stories combine laugh-out-loud, bad-boy adventures with a melancholic and fatalistic undercurrent, in which humor and drugs are used to lessen the pain of existential reality." - Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "But Dyer, a writer who has consistently put himself at the centre of his work, treats travel as if it were a drug designed to heighten the self. By the closing chapters, the drug is no longer working and Dyer's egotistical philosophising collapses in on itself to leave him, often, in tears. (...) You feel for the poor boy." - Helen Brown, New Statesman

  • "While Dyer comically exaggerates his ineptitude by invoking the insights of Rilke, Auden, Nietzsche, Borges, and Frank O'Hara, the very extent to which their views have informed his suggests that this globetrotter's true home is in literature itself." - The New Yorker

  • "Ultimately the reader will register the defeat -- the unlived examination, however fine, may not be worth examining -- but not before being lassoed by Mr.Dyer's agile mind, his comedy and an occasional shivering truth that flies centrifugally out of his centripedal whirl." - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "(A) series of darkly comic riffs on failed plans, thwarted romance and "energetic torpor". Nor is travelogue the only genre that Dyer bends in this delightfully original book. His loiterlogue is also a memoir, sans childhood, and -- as his title suggests -- a primer on self-helplessness. (...) At times he tries too hard to dazzle, particularly in his dialogue." - Tony Horwitz, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Though Dyer likes to paint himself as a slacker who hasn't achieved anything with his life, underneath the layers of deadpan humour and ennui is an almost childlike curiosity about the world and an acute ability to observe and capture the essence of a moment, a person or a place" - Joanne O'Connor, The Observer

  • "(U)proarious, unclassifiable (.....) Two factors absolve Dyer of overstaying his welcome. First, and this doesn't grow on trees, he is assuredly among the funniest writers alive. (...) He can also write the syntactical equivalent of a Rube Goldberg cartoon, where part of the joke lies in the disproportion between polysyllabic verbal means and trivial, even spiteful purposes" - David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Anxious to establish his slacker credentials, he is correspondingly sneaky with the clever stuff -- and his clever stuff is often pretty clever. His best chapters are full of understated implications, and the open intellectualising is wittily done." - Christopher Tayler, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The resulting "factions" are digressive, learned, comically obsessive and ultimately uncategorisable -- but always, like the essays of Lawrence (Dyer's marvellous, maddening hero), full of startling juxtapositions and flashes of illumination." - Geordie Williamson, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Dyer writes vividly about alien landscapes and off-the-wall people, but because he always ends up looking inward, the temptations of narcissism are never far away. Yet Dyer doesn't succumb to them. In part this is because he is a genuinely funny writer" - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The eleven pieces collected in Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It can hardly be described as accounts of Geoff Dyer's experiences abroad. They are -- Dyer goes to Libya ! Dyer lives in Rome ! Dyer ambles through Paris ! Dyer stumbles through Amsterdam ! -- but experience seems the least of it. Yoga is a book about being there -- anywhere -- and yet the different locales fade almost to insignificance, left finally only as a blurry (if occasionally vivid) sort of background.
       Dyer understands as much, trying to explain in a brief introduction what the book is:

It's about places where things happened or didn't happen (.....) In a way they're all the same place -- the same landscape -- because the person these things happened to was the same person who in turn is the sum of all the things that happened or didn't happen in these and other places.
       Many authors place themselves as much in the fore of their accounts as Dyer does, but Dyer's self imposes itself differently on his narratives. It's an odd skin he's stuck in, and he can never quite get out of it. He knows as much, and he accepts it; one might even say, were it not so inapposite, that he revels in it.
       The pieces in Yoga find Dyer in all corners of the world -- from Cambodia to New Orleans, Libya to Detroit -- but most remarkable is the constant sense of lassitude in which he appears to want to lose himself (not always entirely successfully). Ambition is not frustrated, it's completely choked off before it has the least chance of bubbling up. The travels aren't sedentary -- there's movement, places are visited -- but it is sedimentary, inevitably and quickly settling like sand dropped in water.
       A typical expedition is a road trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: typical because "The only way to do a road trip in this goddamn country is to go by boat." Typical because the trip up the Tonlé Sap River turns into a different sort of voyage: "the banks of the river had disappeared and we were surrounded by a flat expanse of nothing but water in every direction". Typical because the boat runs aground in the "featureless lake". Typical because when the boat does move it moves in circles. (Typical also because Dyer's travelling-companion, Sarah, is going by the name of "Circle"; elsewhere, another girlfriend goes by the name of Dazed.)
       Dyer always gets there -- wherever there is -- but it's hardly the point. Destinations don't matter; indeed, the final destination is almost always the place he started from -- even if, as in the drug-haze wanderings through Amsterdam, the final destination (typically: the Hotel Oblivion) doesn't look like the place he set out from (and for).
       Readers familiar with Dyer's previous work will recognise his suffering -- which also colours most of these pieces:
My days were made up of impulses that could never become acts. Ten hours was not enough to get anything done because it wasn't really ten hours, it was just billions of bits of time, each one far too small to do anything with.
       Dyer lives in the moment, and all these places that are visited become parts of the moment, distinguishable from other moments and yet also much the same. In Rome he realises: "I had drifted to a standstill" -- and yet this standing still is the condition he most aspires to; he fools himself into believing he's achieved it, but he knows he hasn't, not entirely. He seems afraid of goals and ultimate destinations and ambitions (other than that final, frozen standstill) -- possibly because he might not be able to meet them, possibly because of the inevitable let-down accomplishment brings with it. But he's not able to embrace a complete lack of purpose and direction either.
       Dyer does get excited, occasionally, about some place or idea -- such as the Roman ruins in Libya, Leptis Magna:
Leptis Magna: the four syllables were as much summons as name. As soon as I heard them I knew I had to go there, to see it for myself.
       The next sentence, of course, reads: "The years passed and I did nothing of the kind." Surprisingly, however, he eventually did set out for Leptis Magna. But, in typical fashion, he can't bring himself to read up on the place, finally convincing himself that it was a perfectly reasonable idea to "put my faith not in the power of guessing but of ignorance as an investigative tool."
       Leptis is one of several places Dyer compares to the Tarkovsky-concept of "the Zone" (from the film Stalker):
It was not a place I had entered, but the dream space of the past. I was in the Zone.
       Which is about as good as it gets for Dyer -- good enough, for a moment or two. "Still in the early stages of a career of ruination", it's just the sort of place for him.
       Dyer isn't often a sentimental sort of traveller (observing, for example: "All travellers to the developing world, if they are honest, will confess that they are actually quite keen on seeing a bit of squalor"), and it's not many who, writing about their travels in Cambodia, would make off-hand comments such as:
Taxi drivers urged us to go to the killing fields, but we were too hot and tired -- the heat meant we were tired all the time -- and had no desire to see piles of skulls.
       (This piece, "Horizontal Drift" is, however, the only on that eventually allows sentimentality to creep in, making for an odd inconsonance.)

       The excellent title, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It, seems almost wasted, a bon mot Dyer feels obligated to use without caring to find a better place for it. It is how he feels -- or at least how he wants to be perceived: as someone who can't even be bothered to do something that, ideally, is the embodiment of the absence of effort and ambition.
       There's a nice exchange about the idea of Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It, where Dyer says about writing a book with that title: "I am near to where I started -- but I am even nearer to giving up" -- pretty much summing up his general approach to things. But despite his constant circling, and his recognition (or at least claim) that "I was well on the way to becoming a ruin myself", Dyer doesn't always ring true. For one there is all this accomplishment, held in the readers hands. He occasionally alludes to his writing -- or rather his attempts at writing -- but practically never to his patent successes. Perhaps this spiel works for him (perhaps he feels that that is where his (tenuous ?) hold on success lies), but at a certain point it doesn't convince any longer (and begins to undermine the work itself).
       As is to be expected, Dyer's pieces are also almost slyly literary. There are references to Auden, D.H.Lawrence, Rilke, Frank O'Hara and others -- but it's never intrusive or show-offy: Dyer clearly circulates in crowds that don't share his literary background, and he knows how to smoothly blend the two worlds.
       Dyer's writing is quite consistent and appealing, though there are a few slips, a few too easy set scenes: he just gets away with his attempts at changing trousers in a bathroom stall, but a few other bits strike one as lazily written (and not lazily in the way he perhaps intended). On occasion one feels he is trying to meet the expectations of 'travel-writing'; these tend to be the least successful bits.
       The pieces have a common thread, but it's also one familiar from Dyer's previous books, i.e. well-worn by now, and the exotic locales don't make it more compelling. Neither fragmentary nor cohesive enough as a whole, the collection doesn't entirely satisfy. But it's still an enjoyable read.

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Links:

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It: Reviews: Black Rock City: Geoff Dyer: Other books by Geoff Dyer under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Geoff Dyer was born in 1958. He attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He has written several novels, a study of John Berger, and several books that his publishers describe as "genre-defying".

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© 2003-2012 the complete review

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