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Another Great Autobiography: Out Of Sheer Rage

My first post about great autobiographies was well received, and I like to read them, so I’m going to keep the series going. Now, when you think of autobiographies, you might picture a massive tome that starts when the subject is born–or well before, going back through their parent’s lives, or even their parent’s lives–but for this series I will simply lump in any non-fiction books that are written in the first person, about their own experiences.

great autobiographyAutobiography can’t really treat a person’s entire life, since you have to be alive to write autobiographies. Out of Sheer Rage is Geoff Dyer’s autobiography about a very specific time in his life: a period when he was trying to write a study of D.H. Lawrence–and trying even harder to put off writing his Lawrence study.

Procrastination

Nobody writes about procrastination as enjoyably as Dyer, in my opinion. This is a hard book to sum up, because the experience of reading it is very similar to the experience of putting off writing your study of D.H. Lawrence. Sentences go on for much longer than they need to, stalling.

Irrelevant details might be given undue space in the book because they are irrelevant details–any excuse to become distracted. The book is performative–it communicates the feelings of the writer through the very way in which it is written.

I know that doesn’t make perfect sense, but it can’t until you read the book. You’ll know what I mean very quickly.

Part travelogue

Dyer writes beautifully, bleakly, and hilariously about following in Lawrence’s footsteps to Mexico, Taos, and and other locations as he hopes for inspiration. The inspiration does not arrive, but he learns something about Lawrence and himself at each place.

Part meditation on writing

The author is not too fond of literary and academic criticism. He wonders constantly whether the fact that he can’t make progress on his book is because his work is not something worth doing. What is the value of literary criticism? He doesn’t have many nice things to say about it.

I found his examination of the act of writing–and why certain people, including Lawrence, are driven to write–fascinating reading.

Part DH Lawrence Biography

I was an English major and read the standard English major Lawrence books. But I didn’t know much about the man. According to Out of Sheer Rage, it sounds like he was a very interesting man, to say the least.

Part examination of depression

In the final third of the book, Dyer reveals some of the demons that have kept him from reaching his potential–both with his book and his life. Anyone who has been depressed (I have) will probably find something they identify with, and hopefully Dyer’s solution for his own depression will spark some ideas in others who are looking for relief.

If I had to prioritize the things I loved about the book, I’d say that first, it was extremely fun for me to read–and that’s all I’d say. The rest of what I wrote should give you a good idea of whether you’ll be interested.

I really think you’ll like it.

Enjoy!

Josh

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