White Sands

by Geoff Dyer, 2016

This is the second book I have read by this author. I learned about him when Christie let me know about his newest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer. The first book I read of his was Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It. That book was funny and very, very enjoyable. This one was good, but not humorous. I missed his humor. He is with his wife during most of this book. He calls her Jessica in the book, but her name is Rebecca. The book is about places he visited that are famous and may impart meaningful emotional experiences while there. Most of them seemed a huge let-down.

The places he visited:

  1. Tahiti – in search of the painter, Gaugin’s, inspirations while living there. He writes: “In a sense that is what we are here for: to wait.” I want him to here the words Wayne remembers Pastor Tim saying at Uncle Wesley’s funeral: “As Christians, we wait, and while we wait, we love.”
  2. Forbidden City – he falls in lust with a lovely Chinese girl acting as the tour guide there. He writes: “Mornings like this prove that you really have to be mad ever to kill yourself. Contemplate it by all means, but never commit to it. Life can improve beyond recognition in the space of a moment.”
  3. The Lightning Field in New Mexico – a bunch of poles set up. You stay the night in a rustic cabin. I liked his description of the stars at night: “We’d all been in star-studded places before, were no strangers to the firmament, but none of us had seen anything like this. Viewed from most places on earth, stars tend to be overhead. Here they poured down all around to our ankles, even though they were millions of light-years away.”
  4. The Spiral Jetty on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. The chapter is entitled, ‘Time in Space.’ I love the first paragraph of this chapter: “Maybe it is not the natives of Texas or Arizona who fully appreciate the scale of the places where they have grown up. Perhaps you have to be British, to come from ‘an island no bigger than a back garden’–in Lawrence’s contemptuous phrase–to grasp properly the immensity of the American West.”
  5. Iceland to see the Northern Lights. This chapter is called, ‘Northern Dark.’ He describes a horrible trip – dark and cold and very expensive and miserable. After a miserable few days, they did not see the Northern Lights. They took a miserably cold and dark dog sled tour. “Oh, and I had come to love the huskies. Irrespective of what the job entails, I love anyone–man or beast–who does their job well, and these huskies whose job was to pull a sled, were absolute in their huskiness.”
  6. White Sands where they (he and his wife) pick up a hitchhiker and then abandon him at a gas station because they are so afraid. Shortly after they pick him up, they pass a sign stating to not pick up hitchhikers because there are detention facilities in the area. They are so afraid of him even though he tells them his story. He has to go to the restroom while they are getting gas and they abandon him even after swearing they won’t.
  7. They visit someone’s former house in L.A. and this chapter made my head spin. I don’t recognize any of the people he wrote about. This chapter is mainly about Theodor Adorno and his book Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. But there are so many other names mentioned, like I said, it made my head spin.
  8. Watts Towers in L.A. He describes Watts Towers pretty well. I went to Google Images to see pictures of them. One man spent all of his free time after work building them. Reminds me of the guy who spent his life building Bishop Castle in Rye, Colorado.
  9. The last chapter was excellent. He describes the ischemic stroke he had at age 55. Last few lines of the book: “Even now, many months later, with all of those tests behind me, with my sense of the unavoidable tedium of life fully restored, when the resolution to treat each day as a gift has been largely forgotten, it still feels good, being where I’ve always longed to be, perched on what Adorno called ‘this remote western coast.’ There’s a wild sunset brewing up over the Pacific. The water is glowing turquoise, the sky is turning crazy pink, the lights of the Santa Monica Ferris wheel are starting to pulse and spin in the twilight. Life is so interesting I’d like to stick around forever, just to see what happens, how it all turns out.”