Book Review: White Sands: Experiences From the Outside World

Dyer has penned a thinking person's travelogue through territories geographic, cultural, and personal

<i>White Sands: Experiences From the Outside World</i>

"Oh, the places you'll go!" exhorted Dr. Seuss in his last book – the last one published during his lifetime, anyway, in 1990: Too late for author Geoff Dyer, who is 58, to have read it during childhood.

But Dyer, known for Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi and The Color of Memory and Otherwise Known as the Human Condition and other volumes, didn't need the late Ted Geisel to inspire him toward a peripatetic life. In fact, why bring Dr. Seuss into the mix here at all, save for how apt that one title is and how more people know of him than they know of this British ex-pat Dyer now living in Los Angeles?

Because many people should know of Dyer, is the thing. Then they'd read his acclaimed work and thereby improve their knowledge of: 1) this wide world, and 2) the teeming forms of cultural and personal expression in it, and 3) the complex and informed critical mind of that same Geoff Dyer.

Read this new collection of essays, for instance, and gain a somewhat curmudgeonly author's-eye perspective on the Polynesian travels and creations of French painter (and Van Gogh frenemy) Paul Gauguin; the tourist-accessible alleys and temples and impromptu guides of China's Forbidden City; the American wastelands surrounding Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and that protean earthwork itself; the years German philosopher Theodor Adorno spent exiled in L.A. (just across the hood from composer Arnold Schoenberg) while Nazis visited World War II hell on Earth back home. And, among other things, what can happen when a fellow and his wife pick up a lone hitchhiker after leaving White Sands, New Mexico.

White Sands, the book, is a thinking person's travelogue through territories geographic, cultural, and personal – with music by John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

White Sands: Experiences From the Outside World

by Geoff Dyer
Pantheon, 240 pp., $25

Geoff Dyer will speak about White Sands in the session “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” with Andrés Neuman (How to Travel Without Seeing) and moderator Tiffany Yates Martin on Sat., Nov. 5, 3pm, in Capitol Extension Room E2.030.

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