Last night I finished reading Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer. According to my record on LibraryThing, where I obsessive-compulsively record such things, I started reading it on March 6. So it took me more than four months to read a 256-page book.
First up: It was great. More on that later.
I have good excuses. I had a couple other things going on. Moving, mainly, which involved organizing, and packing, and holding a yard sale and unpacking. Most of our books remain in boxes since we still haven’t built the Wall of Bookshelves. All that chaos meant I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate Dyer’s dry, funny, smart observations on literature and himself. It was easier to dive in to various kinds of genre novels and a true crime book. And I went out of town for a week and that meant I had to read a Patrick O’Brian book because I only read those when I travel and I rarely travel these days. Besides, procrastinating on reading a book that is, in large part, about why and how we avoid doing the things we supposedly want to do, seemed appropriate.
But I kept the book near the surface level of the moving chaos and eventually finished it and am extremely glad I did. Dyer is hysterically funny, writing about his journey to write (or not write) a critical study of D.H. Lawrence, which winds up being this book instead, a memoir of sorts and meditation on the creative process and, not least, on Lawrence and his choices in life.
I especially loved Dyer’s rant about academic literary criticism, which is over the top but perfectly expresses the fury many of us feel toward the current “official” approach to literature by its self-appointed judges who appear to be interested only in finding reasons to tear it apart and blame it for humanity’s evil excesses, and then express their findings in repellent prose. Who needs it? Dyer speaks for those of us who love reading, and wind up majoring in English or studying literature in some fashion but are horrified by the way academia handles the field.
There’s one other good reason to read this book if you’re in Key West or interested in coming to Key West this January: Dyer will be here for the Key West Literary Seminar’s upcoming session, Writers on Writers. We’re holding two sessions — the first is sold out but there’s still room in the second, Jan. 17-20. And Dyer will be here for both, along with an impressive roster of fellow writers. Can’t wait to find out if he’s as funny and interesting in person as he is on the page (though after reading his comments on Rome, Santa Fe and Taos, I fear a little for Key West in future essays).