Dyer essays 'medicine for the soul'

"Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews 1989-2010" by Geoff Dyer (Greywolf Press, 421 pages, $18)

England's Geoff Dyer is a public intellectual, defined as a freelance thinker not affiliated with a university, newspaper, political party, think tank, blog or mass movement. What this means is that, in a world increasingly defined by spectacle and video, he earns a living with his intelligence and pen, not a mean thing.

He is the author of four novels, including the devilishly entertaining "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi," the travel book "Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do It," and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist "Out of Sheer Rage." The recipient of many awards, fellowships and prizes, Dyer lives in London.

"Otherwise Known" is a collection of essays and reviews published over a span of 20 years, many of them incisive, witty, inspiring, unusual or offbeat. The book is handsomely produced and divided into sections called Visuals, Verbals, Variables and Personals.

Photography is a Dyer passion, and the selection of essays in Visuals represents the best of Dyer's writing about photography. Perhaps more interesting to the general reader are the Verbals, or book reviews, many of which are gems of literary criticism and some of which border of creative expressionism of a high order. Dyer loves D.H. Lawrence and writes perceptively about this passe writer's long and troubled career.

Dyer isn't afraid: He takes on Camus' Algeria, gate-crashing posh London parties, American writers like Richard Ford, Denis Johnson and James Salter, co-piloting MiG jets, and even his childhood's most influential comics. Dyer's love of American jazz shines particularly brightly in many of these essays.

Some of the pieces are "occasional," meaning that they are short, pithy and even curt. Others are substantial meditations on social reality, literature and fate.

While all of the pieces have appeared previously, it is tremendously valuable to have them collected in one place, "at hand." Readers are invited to keep this beautiful trade paper volume at their bedside and to dip into the book as needed, a medicine for the soul.