There are several hundred reasons to love Geoff Dyer. One of them is his writing. The author of eleven books, including “But Beautiful,” “Out of Sheer Rage,” “Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It,” and “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,” Dyer is hailed as a genre-defier. He explores, crosses lines. I want to say that he digresses, but in the astonishing rabbit holes down which he takes us, they don’t feel like digressions. In Dyer’s protean world, there’s no such thing.
I first met him a few months ago at a residency/workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I was deeply enamored of him, which often leads me to stuttering and nervous, incoherent ramblings. Dyer put me at ease. He joked, he self-deprecated, he exuded a droll lightness. During a discussion about literature he said that he likes to think of writing books as epistemological journeys. Me being of the knuckle-dragging surfer variety, I had to look up “epistemological.” It means “the theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope.” Not only did this fire me up on my own writing (“Writing is an opportunity to learn in the public eye,” wrote another of my favorite writers), it made me realize what I love so much about Dyer’s non-fiction. He starts out on the bar stool next to you, drawing you in to whatever subject, and by the end of it your both dressed in cap and gown, clutching diplomas.
Another reason to love Geoff Dyer is his passion for balls. Dyer played tennis nearly every afternoon. His wins and losses became the source of inside, ongoing jokes that were bandied about the dinner table. One scorching afternoon we went to the beach. “How boring!” said Dyer, scanning the group of pasty writers stretched on towels, heads in books. He produced a tennis ball, and rallied us all into a game of catch at the shoreline. But ordinary catch was not enough for Dyer. “The idea is to fake each other out,” he said, eyeing me but rifling the ball to the unsuspecting player on his right. He also insisted we add an element of hot potato—the moment you catch the ball you’re already throwing it. Indelible memories of Dyer diving for balls in the spuming shorebreak, his drenched T-shirt clinging to his narrow frame, his toothy smile gleaming in the Florida sun. I felt nine years old again. Had he proposed we build a sandcastle I’d’ve been in without question.
“The Ongoing Moment,” Dyer’s illuminating discourse on photography, focuses on linked subjects, motifs, and gestures in his favorite images. He shows us how one picture leads to another, thus creating a sort of conversation between photographers like Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, and Robert Frank that, by extension, traces right up to the present.
Dyer and I spoke via Google Hangouts. He was framed dead center, cropped at the high forehead and lower chin, clean shaven, cheery, laughing easily. He was in New York, I was in LA, but it felt like we could have been sitting across the table from each other.
Q&A coming soon to Huck magazine—http://www.huckmagazine.com/