Last night Andrew and I saw Mike Leigh’s latest film, Another Year, and when we emerged from the theatre I said, “Mike Leigh is one of my favourite filmmakers.” I said it emphatically. I really, really meant it. Andrew replied, “You’ve only seen two of his movies, Teri.” He was being reasonable – saying someone is a “favourite” when you’ve only scratched the surface of their work is a bit much, admittedly, but he’s used to these kinds of grand pronouncements from me. Being a fan is such a big part of my identity, and once I have an inkling of liking something, I like it a lot and I like it forever. (Recent examples: this; the fact that I’ve been stubbornly listening to the new R.E.M. album all week despite it being just, eh, okay.)
At the end of 2010 I reminded myself to read more books by Geoff Dyer. After writing that post, I suddenly started seeing his name everywhere (for example: here, here and here.) Was the universe telling me to get off my ass and read his books? Not quite. He has a new book coming out in March: I was being lured in by a well timed promotional blitz. Still, I wondered, what was I waiting for?
Looking for Geoff Dyer’s bibliography is the closest you come to getting a work out in a bookstore. The Ongoing Moment, about photography, is in art criticism. But Beautiful is in music history, in the tiny, dusty section of books about jazz. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a novel. I’ve seen Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It classified as “travel adventure”. Out of Sheer Rage, which is kind-of-but-not-really about D.H. Lawrence could be literary criticism, but is more memoir. I guess this is why he tends to be described as “genre defying”.
What I’d liked about The Ongoing Moment was how seamlessly it wove together a discussion of photography with literature, pop culture, and biography. It was clever and interesting. When I finished reading it, I had a hunch that if I sought out more of his books, I would be happy. Months later I finally got around to Yoga, mostly because the title intrigued me so much. It’s a collection of essays about his various travels – New Orleans, Nevada, Libya, Rome, etc. – but really it’s about being alone with yourself, and also it’s about ruins and what they say about time and history. Or something. I loved it. Then I read Out of Sheer Rage, which is filled with a lot of whingeing. He complains about how he wants to write a “sober study of D.H. Lawrence”, but first he can’t decide where to write it (Paris? Rome? Greece? Back in England?) and then when he finally settles down, he can’t really get started, and then whenever he makes various Lawrence related pilgrimages, something always goes wrong. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so funny and well written.
Discovering these books has felt kind of serendipitous to me. I suppose, given the broad range of subjects he covers, it’s not hard to feel that way, but so much of what he writes about coincides with things I’ve been wanting to get different perspectives on. Out of Sheer Rage feels particularly appropriate while I’m procrastinating from working on my own book. I’m glad I have more of his books to look forward to, even the one about jazz, which I know nothing about or really care for.
Also seeing J.M. Coetzee react so humourlessly to this joke is hilarious:
So, once again, one of my hunches was right. I’ll watch a few more Mike Leigh movies and see if I was right about that too.