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White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World (Hardcover)
Much of Geoff Dyer’s work might best be described as personal essay. He’s a forerunner and master of this exploding genre. In White Sands, Dyer is also art critic, travel writer, and philosopher. Visiting landscapes and exploring their intersection with human culture across time, we reside both claustrophobically inside the author’s rambling mind, and roam the South Pacific, Norway, the American desert, emphasizing the vastness of the world. Dyer verges on snarky, but before that grates, he tips into wry humor or surprising profundity, making for countless read-aloud, laugh-aloud moments in a gloriously uncategorizable and memorable collection.
— Sara, Atlanta
From “one of our most original writers” (Kathryn Schulz, New York magazine) comes an expansive and exacting book—firmly grounded but elegant, often hilarious, and always inquisitive—about travel, unexpected awareness, and the questions we ask when we step outside ourselves.
Geoff Dyer’s restless search—for what? is unclear, even to him—continues in this series of fascinating adventures and pilgrimages: with a tour guide who may not be a tour guide in the Forbidden City in Beijing; with friends in New Mexico, where D. H. Lawrence famously claimed to have had his “greatest experience from the outside world”; with a hitchhiker picked up on the way from White Sands; with Don Cherry (or a photo of him, at any rate) at the Watts Towers in Los Angeles.
Weaving stories about places to which he has recently traveled with images and memories that have persisted since childhood, Dyer tries “to work out what a certain place—a certain way of marking the landscape—means; what it’s trying to tell us; what we go to it for.”
With 4 pages of full-color illustrations.
About the Author
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Geoff Dyer has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the E. M. Forster Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and, in 2015, the Windham Campbell Prize for non-fiction. The author of four novels and nine works of non-fiction, Dyer is writer in residence at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. His books have been translated into twenty-four languages.
“Dyer’s virtue is not the whole-hearted embrace of experience and exotic locales but the parsing of degrees of disappointment. He also doesn’t pretend to be heading anywhere, but then ‘White Sands’ turns into a memoir and becomes unexpectedly moving….Dyer’s tone as he relates his frightening brush with tragedy is calm and full of curiosity, possibly as a result of eschewing drama for his entire life. ‘White Sands’ is a short book, brisk, hard to take and worth the attempt, just the sort of paradox Dyer most enjoys.” —Jane Smiley, Los Angeles Times
“Surpassingly eloquent….there’s no other writer quite like Dyer….The real action is in the lively intercourse between Dyer’s mind and the outside world….An essential part of travel is the inevitable sense that wherever you’ve gotten to isn’t quite what you hoped it would be—just as you yourself are never, not completely, the traveler you thought you would be.” —Lev Grossman, Time
“With philosophical incisiveness, Dyer extols the virtue of landscape to conjure in himself the tangible and the mirage, the real and the illusion, the possessed object and the desired object. There is an undeniable joy throughout Dyer's writing, an affirmation that travel and the experience of place—not merely being someplace, but being present in it—is a gateway to the humanity of past, present, and future. A mesmerizing compendium that reflects on time, place, and just what, exactly, we are doing here.” —Kirkus *starred review*
“‘White Sands’ isn’t just a catalog of travel mishaps, with Mr. Dyer cast as an English-speaking Monsieur Hulot. It is also a rumination on the meanings we assign the strange destinations of our pilgrimages….Mr. Dyer is keenly, almost achingly, aware of our own impermanence. His imagination, you could say, has a built-in time-lapse function. He sees a lifetime of past and future boredom in a museum guard’s face; the sight of a particular soccer field immediately induces ‘a vision of its own demise’; ‘The Lightning Field’ makes him wonder what aliens will make of it long after humans are gone.”—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
“What is the point of anything, really? That’s the basis for much, maybe most, of the comedy in this world. And that’s the basis for the singularly entertaining oeuvre of the writer Geoff Dyer, who takes a headlong interest in things — ideas, places, works of art — only to fall back on his default position: prone, and despairing. In his ninth nonfiction book (he’s also turned out four novels and several essay collections), the very droll Dyer makes a series of pilgrimages, then wonders what all the fuss was about. The fact that the reader knows that this will be his reaction takes away nothing from the amusement, and occasional enlightenment, of the journey. That’s Dyer’s specialty.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Reasons to read Dyer, a critic, novelist, and creative nonfiction writer with a clutch of prestigious awards: he is an exhilaratingly superb stylist who uses his literary might and artistic and cultural erudition to express irreverent and irascible opinions and philosophical musings. And when he is in travelogue mode, as he is here, his observations are stunning in their candor about disappointment (his heart, he tells us, ‘is prone to sinking’) and acidly hilarious….Wherever he goes (Watts Towers, the Forbidden City), Dyer reports on the glorious complexities of both outer and inner worlds with acerbity, delving intelligence, and disarming and profound wit.” —Booklist
“Any writer in need of a story should just get out there and pick up a hitchhiker. Literature may not want for hitchhiking stories, but you can never have too many. The best I’ve read lately is the title essay in White Sands, Geoff Dyer’s new collection of travel writing….White Sands is chockablock with memorable pieces—a trip to Gauguin’s “babelicious” Tahiti, a stay at De Maria’s Lightning Field—but this hitchhiking episode, so loaded with nervous potential, is the one I keep returning to. Dyer’s gift for comic understatement is on display throughout, as when he writes, ‘I sometimes think that this is all any of us really want from our time on earth: an explanation.’” —Paris Review, Staff Picks of the Week
“[Dyer’s] perception is sharp and his frame of reference is wide even when he lingers on banalities; and when focusing attention on ‘higher’ cultural forms, he is mindful to stay true to our experience: the irrelevant thoughts and prosaic desires that tug at us while we are, say, contemplating phenomenology….His search for authenticity is reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s conception of the ‘aura’ of a work of art and the rituals we attach to it; the ‘fabric of tradition’ (for Benjamin) in which it is embedded….Entertaining and thought provoking.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Echoes and residues and lingering resonances thrill the author, which is ultimately the wonderful thing about Dyer’s racing, wildly associative mind….When Dyer’s insights gain altitude, they are transcendent, reminding us that every square inch of the planet shimmers with the magnetism of its former life and former meaning.” —The Boston Globe
“Where do we come from, where are we going, and when we get there, what, specifically, defines a particular place? These are the questions Dyer asks in a series of essays ostensibly about travel but actually much deeper. (Not surprisingly, since he’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature who’s won the E.M. Forster Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and a 2015 Windham-Campbell Prize.) From touring Beijing’s Forbidden City with a suspect guide to picking up a hitchhiker near a prison at White Sands, NM, to visiting Norway to see the Northern Lights, which never materialize, but finding a whole new view of things after a medical incident at home in Venice, CA (he’s always wanted to live there), English author Dyer will surely be taking readers on a smart and meditative journey.” —Library Journal
“In these humorous essays, Dyer is at his funniest when he travels to Scandinavia to see the northern lights, but elects to stay in and watch a football match; or goes to see the Spiral Jetty in Utah and is slightly unimpressed. This book never takes itself too seriously, yet manages to comment impressively on art’s place in society.” —San Francisco Chronicle, Book Seller Recommendations
“Its seemingly straightforward travel narratives—with stops in Tahiti, the Arctic Circle, New Mexico, and China, among others—are obliquely fictionalized and rife with the author’s hopscotch intellect. Everywhere he goes Dyer finds inspired connections across music, art, and time.” —BOMB Magazine
“Dyer writing about things? I’m in! It hardly matters what the things are at this point—Dyer has established that he can write about basically anything and make it interesting—but in this case the things mostly involve travel….A consistently enjoyable and thought-provoking collection.” —Slate,
“Many of us here at Powell’s keep a list of authors with whom we’d most want to get together for dinner. My own list has changed quite a bit over the years, but the one constant has been Geoff Dyer. He is a true original — intelligent, unpretentious, deep-thinking, and often hilarious…. His new essay collection, White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World, is the type of book that will alter the way you look at the world around you. In it, he visits places that are well known, like the Forbidden City in Beijing, and others that you’ve probably never heard of, like the Lightning Field in New Mexico…. He describes each of these places in his own unique style and with enough Dyer-esque tangents along the way that you’ll soon feel compelled to pay visits to these places yourself.” —Powels.com “Geoff Dyer never fails to arrive at the truth of any given situation—even when that truth is that not everything in life is figure-out-able. With White Sands, Dyer contributes nine stories, some previously published, often in a very different form, that taket he reader from Tahiti to Beijing to Norwway to the White Sands of the title, and present the act of traveling in all of its uncomfortable, disappointing, and awe-inspiring reality….As a whole, this collection sets off in pursuit of meaning not via search engine, but through actualy lived experience, be it mundane, miserable, urgent, or sublime.” —Nylon
“In this collection of essays, roving critic and beloved polymath Geoff Dyer travels to some of the worlds most famous and far-flung places, pondering why we travel and how it changes us. Whether he’s chasing Gauguin’s ghost in Tahiti, falling for a tour guide in Beijing’s Forbidden City, or giving a suspiciously courteous hitchhiker a lift in White Sands, New Mexico, Dyer’s journeys delight and inspire at every turn.” —Virtuoso Life “Dyer, though not a travel writer by definition, brillianty and often hilariously enriches the genre….One hopes he will continue to dazzle for many years to come.” —The Weekly Standard
“Sense of place is addressed here, not just with variations of ‘returning home and coming to terms with it for the first time’ Or ‘the journey has, in itself, become the destination.’ You’ll probably feel both of those wafting through the book from time to time — but Dyer has, as he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout a brilliant career, much more in mind…. Over the years he’s traipsed over strings of words and sentences that have been called novels, short story collections, and “studies” and “appreciations.” But let’s just call it all magic.” —Louisville Eccentric Observer
“We all want to be Geoff Dyer (or at least have Dyer’s career) when we grow up….it’s been a spectacularly engaging career, and ‘White Sands: Experiences From the Outside World’ shows Dyer in full command of his abilities. He is able to meditate upon (or is the right phrase ‘riff on’?) the biggest questions as well as or better than anyone in the game. His ability to navel-gaze now and then without making it read like he’s navel-gazing is, frankly, stunning.” —Austin American Statesman
“White Sands is the kind of book that will appeal to anyone who knows how tiring a ‘relaxing’ trip can be, and quietly wondered ‘Is that all there is?’ after arriving at the destination of a lifetime….Is it possible to be an optimistic pessimist? It’s a kind of boozy philosophical conundrum that one might only tackle three drinks into a long evening. In other words, it’s perfect conversation for the literary raconteur that is Dyer….White Sands is a powerful brew. Like whiskey, Dyer’s occasionally catty narrative can be an acquired taste, but once you develop an appreciation for it, you’ll never settle for anything less than the best.” —Signature Reads
“Dyer is a masterful cultural critic….In this collection about places he has visited, he searches for traces of Gauguin in Tahiti, visits a glitzy rooftop bar in Beijing with a seductive tour guide, and makes field trips in Los Angeles to the Watts Towers and the former home of Theodor Adorno….His fluid and surprising imaginative shifts keep these essays endlessly engaging.” —BBC.com, “Books to Read in May”
“Dyer’s originality, in part, arises from a distinctly postmodern attitude toward literary genres — he blends them better, and more surprisingly, than most writers. Wry and exquisitely observed, Dyer's books emerge from the vanishing points between fiction and autobiography, comical travelogue and philosophical treatise, cultural criticism and historical revision. If there's a limit to what a book can be, Dyer hasn't found it yet. His latest work, White Sands: Experiences From the Outside World, [is] a collection of essays in which Dyer muses about travel, memory, and the effects of both on one’s sense of self.”—The Village Voice
“Reading Dyer is like taking a trip around the world with your best-read, wittiest, most interesting friend. He whispers gossip, history, theory, and criticism in your ear while ogling Gauguin’s Tahitian babes, having a quasi-religious experience at the earthwork Spiral Jetty in Utah, and flirting in Beijing’s Forbidden City.” —O Magazine
“The arrival of a new Geoff Dyer book is an occasion for which I drop everything…. His agility at handling diverse subject matter is masterful, and the appeal of his work— to me —is being in the company of Geoff Dyer.” —The Millions
“This is a book of thought as well as experience. Truth can be arbitrary, and sometimes imagination and the imaginer must be drawn in to get at it. In Dyer’s critical gonzoism, the fact-fiction question doesn’t matter, not as Dyer considers his relation to a spiral of stone in the Great Salt Lake, or examines his frustration when he fails to witness the Northern Lights on a long journey planned to include that experience. What he imagines are the whats and they whys beyond fact and fiction. It’s what makes his work fascinating.” —Santa Fe New Mexican
“Dyer is humorous and erudite, a rare combination. He uses his novelistic gifts—documenting social behaviors, seamlessly following streams of thought, juxtaposing observation and dialogue—to capture ephemera, fleetingness, beauty.” —Christine Smallwood, Bookforum
“Funny, insightful, and asking big questions of the planet, of art, of the sacred nodality of places, and why we bother to go anywhere at all.” —The Hindu
“Geoff Dyer is a master at illuminating both the personal and the universal, and that has never been more evident than in his new essay collection White Sands.” —Largehearted Boy (BookNotes)
“Dyer is entitled to be proud of his cerebral equipment, and I might add that I’m also pretty enamoured of his brain – of the way it makes unexpected connections, which is what the firing synapses in our head are supposed to do; of its delight in asking bold metaphysical questions, like those in the first essay in this collection, which is entitled Where? What? Where?; and of its tricksy blurring of the borders between fact and fiction, life and art….Dyer’s eyes miss nothing, and his brain emits sparks as brilliantly as The Lightning Field is meant to do in an evening thunderstorm.” —The Guardian “Quite brilliant….White Sands [is] an elegant parade of [Dyer’s] talents….If Chekhov himself were to read this book, when he got to the chapter ‘White Sands’ even he would surely feel some fraternal tremor of envy.” —The Spectator “[Dyer] proves that the art of the essay mirrors that of the art of travel—and that he’s a master at both….Humorous, occasionally grumpy and always introspective, always worth it….In paragraphs packed as smartly as a carry-on bag that fits snug in the overhead compartment, with sentences so artfully wrought that they may well shift during flight, Dyer exalts in transporting us elsewhere, into landscapes both exotic and intimate.” —The Post and Courier
“Geoff Dyer’s humour and wisdom shine in White Sands….It is the genius of Dyer’s work that he is able to remain highbrow—that is, maintain deep critical engagement with a subject—while being laugh-out-loud funny….‘I loved my brain,’ he writes, recalling how he came to grips with the malfunction that had occurred somewhere within it. A lot of readers love it too. Long may it continue to, as he puts it, ‘gamely go about its business.’” —The Australian “Geoff Dyer is good on absence. In Out of Sheer Rage, he wrote a wonderful book about not writing a biography of DH Lawrence. In this new collection of pieces, he does it again: he writes so entertainingly about not seeing the Northern Lights that you’re glad he was deprived of the experience…. Writers, he observes at one point, ‘are dogged constantly by the fear of not being able to do it any more.’ On the evidence of White Sands, he needn’t worry.” —The Telegraph
“As with real estate, the pivotal element in much of Dyer’s work comes down to location, location, location. What animates White Sands, Yoga, and perhaps most of Dyer’s work is his sensitivity to the moment of arrival….Dyer, in his more open-hearted mode, submits himself to being a pilgrim, surrendering to the ‘magnetic force’ of a sacred site. In White Sands such surrender is often reserved not for sites of historical importance, but for sites of quixotic artistic endeavour: Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in Utah, or especially, Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field in New Mexico – the subject of this book’s most spellbinding essay, Space in Time.” —National Post