PW met Geoff Dyer at the Gramercy Hotel, which he admited "has seen better days." A short walk to a nearby Cosi coffee bar and he settled down to talk about his new collection of work.
PW: Would it be fair to characterize your book, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It, as travel essays?
Geoff Dyer: That has been the historical problem of my non-career. Each of the books has been very different—each book combines all sorts of different genres. So, "travel genre" is a somewhat limiting description of the book. I think it's a shame that it just can't be called "a book."
PW: In the U.K., a writer will write plays, poetry, fiction, perform stand-up even. Does genre seem to be a bigger concern for American publishers?
GD: Yes, but more and more people are moving between readily identified genres. You can do a cookbook, then a sports book, and then a novel. What's more difficult is when you write a book that doesn't fit into any of those categories.
PW: What kind of expectations do you put on the reader, then?
GD: I think this kind of book comes to the reader with a lower set of expectations than, say, a novel. The thing about the novel is that we all know how to read them, we all know what they're meant to do. Take Ishiguro's Remains of the Day—we've been learning how to read that book, with the unreliable narrator full of irony, ever since The Canterbury Tales in school. With a book like Yoga, the reader has to approach it with a completely open mind. I like that people will ask of individual pieces, "Is it a story?" Partly. "Is it an essay?" Partly. I like the idea of writing an essay in dialogue. It requires people to say stuff they couldn't possibly have said in real life.
PW: You're trying to do something new with the essay?
GD: Yeah, except when you are trying to do something new, all you're really doing is what you can. I think it's useful to refer to jazz. The crucial thing in jazz is to have your own sound, but musicians usually arrive at their own sound by default, because when they try to sound like somebody else, they can't do it, and they end up with their own sound.
PW: Is there someone you've tried to imitate?
GD: I'm a writer who's been very prone to influences. I read a great deal, so I've fallen under all sorts of influences. Thomas Bernhard is one. Though now I'm now at a stage of my writing life that I would say my biggest influence is me.