Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bushby Geoff Dyer
From a writer “whose genre-jumping refusal to be pinned down [makes him] an exemplar of our era” (NPR), a new book that confirms his power to astound readers.
As a child Geoff Dyer spent long hours making and blotchily painting model fighter planes. So the adult Dyer jumped at the chance of a residency aboard an aircraft carrier. Another
From a writer “whose genre-jumping refusal to be pinned down [makes him] an exemplar of our era” (NPR), a new book that confirms his power to astound readers.
As a child Geoff Dyer spent long hours making and blotchily painting model fighter planes. So the adult Dyer jumped at the chance of a residency aboard an aircraft carrier. Another Great Day at Sea chronicles Dyer’s experiences on the USS George H.W. Bush as he navigates the routines and protocols of “carrier-world,” from the elaborate choreography of the flight deck through miles of walkways and hatches to kitchens serving meals for a crew of five thousand to the deafening complexity of catapult and arresting gear. Meeting the Captain, the F-18 pilots and the dentists, experiencing everything from a man-overboard alert to the Steel Beach Party, Dyer guides us through the most AIE (acronym intensive environment) imaginable.
A lanky Englishman (could he really be both the tallest and the oldest person on the ship?) in a deeply American world, with its constant exhortations to improve, to do better, Dyer brilliantly records the daily life on board the ship, revealing it to be a prism for understanding a society where discipline and conformity, dedication and optimism, become forms of self-expression. In the process it becomes clear why Geoff Dyer has been widely praised as one of the most original—and funniest—voices in literature.
Another Great Day at Sea is the definitive work of an author whose books defy definition.
This persona-driven work follows Dyer (But Beautiful; The Missing of the Somme) during the two weeks he spent as writer in residence on the USS George H.W. Bush, interviewing the aircraft carrier’s crew, as well as members of the U.S. navy and taking notes on the ship’s general operations. Yet, as is his custom, Dyer makes no pretenses about being a reporter or capturing facts. He claims early on that “the essence of character is the inability to get used to things,” and though he makes due aboard the vast and bustling ship, he knows himself well. The result is an often hilarious and aphoristic, short-chaptered account written by a British essayist who is fascinated by American culture. Always the outsider, Dyer spends most of his time thinking about food, comparing himself to other writers in a self-deprecating manner, or lamenting the ship’s many inconveniences. Dyer is most engaging when he’s coming to terms with his own anxieties, or making sharp observations about the accomplishments of others; he is perhaps at his least sophisticated when whining or indulging his own base desires. Though this isn’t Dyer’s finest work of nonfiction, and he hasn’t tackled his subject matter to its full potential, it is still a highly entertaining read. With color photographs not seen by PW. Agent: Wylie Agency. (May)
“[Dyer’s] account of his stay on the ship is mostly blissful, filled with curiosity and with admiration for the crew and the dangerous, difficult work it does: repairing airplanes, flinging them up into the sky and then snagging them when they come back down again.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
“Remarkable….the book is very, very funny, from beginning to end. It is also incredibly moving, in the way only fresh and generous writing can be…. By the end of the book Dyer can state unabashedly that he’s had one of the greatest encounters of his life on this boat, and I’m right there with him.”
"Dyer soars for the rest of the book, which shares sea legs with David Foster Wallce's brilliant cruice-ship essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."
San Francisco Chronicle
“Terrific reading . . . . And so with this generous, illuminating and very funny book, Geoff Dyer, one of the most inquisitive writers in the English language, has proven his writing chops on land and at sea. What’s left? We need to send him to space.”
New York Times Book Review
“This is what I love about Geoff Dyer’s work: His feet are never on the ground.”
New York Observer
“Very much the flipside of Wallace’s most famous essay, ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ . . . . Another Great Day at Sea is like the more expensive sequel with a punchier moral . . . . Where a lesser writer—or, it must be said, even Wallace—would keep an icy distance, Mr. Dyer becomes one of the crew members”
“Hilarious and oddball and nearly perfect, and you’ll learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about aircraft carriers . . . . I love this book.”
Los Angeles Times
“Dyer is to essays what Anthony Bourdain is to food.”
“Dyer’s antic, anxious, inventive mind is often fun to follow”
“A revelation to lovers of literature, who’ll learn about the military from a master stylist, and to those who love ships and planes, who’ll have the pleasure of a new perspective from a great writer.”
“Dyer seems to be channeling . . . John Steinbeck . . . . The writing is loose and thin yet studded with conversational gems”
New York Magazine
“Dyer, at his best, is outstanding. He is one of our greatest living critics, not of the arts but of life itself, and one of our most original writers. . . .The essential fact about Dyer’s nonfiction is that it works beautifully when it shouldn’t work at all. . . .What’s going on in these sentences is the fundamental business of nonfiction: the translation, at once exact and surprising, of world to word. . . .Dyer’s books don’t just have gorgeous throwaway moments. They are gorgeous throwaway moments, a series of extraordinary asides in the long sentence that is life.”
Time Out New York’s “Pick Your Perfect Summer Read”
“If you’re bobbing on the briny sea, you’ll relate to the author’s two weeks in the Persian Gulf and will delight in every digression about dentists and the pleasures of farting alone in one’s room.”
“The average writer would make this disparity into fish-out-of-water commentary, but Dyer starts there and then goes off into space, spinning his observations into something profound and beautiful that socks you in the gut.”
“The notion of installing a writer of Dyer’s baroquely sensitive and self-conscious temperament aboard an American aircraft carrier stationed in the Persian Gulf is obviously a stroke of genius. . . .Thoroughly enjoyable. . . .The pleasure it delivers comes from two sources: Dyer’s potent descriptive talent as he evokes the sequestered and sometimes surreal environment and society of the carrier, and the comedy he derives from his own fish-out-of-water status and high-strung personality. . . .Dyer’s best is much more than good enough.”
“As concentratedly funny as anything he’s written….you read him for his ability to turn every topic, no matter how uncompromising, into another excellent excuse for a book by Geoff Dyer.”
“A unique and compelling stylist and a charming reporter, Dyer seems to have an absolute bang-up time on this assignment, and it’s a pleasure to go along with him….What I found most remarkable about this book is that Dyer’s uniform delight with everything and everybody he meets never gets monotonous.”
Tom Lavoie, Shelf Awareness
“Geoff Dyer is one of those writers who can’t stop—he’ll write about anything that catches his fancy and do it really well….This is a riveting (excuse the pun) excursion into bigness and ‘endless walkways, hatches, and doorways,’ and it’s totally engrossing…..Dyer goes on quite a trip and keeps us intrigued the whole way.”
“An often hilarious and aphoristic, short-chaptered account written by a British essayist who is fascinated by American culture….a highly entertaining read.”
“Geoff Dyer deftly blends two stories into one short book: a closely observed, respectful account of life and work aboard an aircraft carrier, and the comic adventure of being ‘the oldest and tallest person on ship,’ ducking and stooping his head constantly, struggling with the food and the noise of jets.”
Tampa Bay Tribune
“In a book where metaphors and similes could easily run wild, Dyer deploys them sparingly and to good effect….It’s hard not to like a writer who can admit that, in talking to crew members about a man-overboard emergency, he comes armed ‘with my knack for idiotic pleasantry, anchored in zero knowledge’….The ship’s routines and drills meant there was ‘never a dull moment,’ yet ‘an endless succession of dull moments.’ Nothing dull about Dyer, though.”
Jason Diamond, Flavorwire
“When Geoff Dyer wants to write about something, he gets totally into it. Be it a Russian film or yoga, Dyer’s unique take on whatever situation he’s focused on always yields a great book. In this latest case, Dyer finds himself on an American supercarrier, and the results are nothing short of superb.”
“When Dyer delves into a specific topic, he delves deeply, which is why we’re looking forward to his latest exploration: what life aboard an aircraft carrier is like. As always, he laces his observations with comedy and captivating storytelling.”
Jay Freeman, Booklist
“Unique, interesting, and surprising . . . fascinating.”
Billy Collins, author of Aimless Love
“Geoff Dyer has managed to do again what he does best: insert himself into an exotic and demanding environment (sometimes, his own flat, but here, the violent wonders of an aircraft carrier) and file a report that mixes empathetic appreciation with dips into brilliant comic deflation. Welcome aboard the edifying and sometimes hilarious ship Dyer.”
Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
“What could be better than weeks far away on the flat seas of the Arabian Gulf with Geoff Dyer? He is, if possible, even more witty and charming than usual. The carrier's hugeness, its crew's tireless cheer and openness, and the enormous mechanical and electrical forces at work everywhere fare wonderfully here with Dyer's unique combination of depth, irreverence and explosive humor.”
John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“I hope one day to meet the demented genius who decided to put Geoff Dyer aboard an American aircraft carrier. The result sounds in places as if Sterne en route to his sentimental journey had paused for a week's stint on HMS Victory. There's something like New Journalism happening but in the hands of a writer who'll suddenly flash out sentences such as, 'The sea was a prairie of glitter green.' In the end one is forced to call it "a Dyer book," which luckily for him and us is a high compliment.”
“Dyer stows himself away on an American aircraft carrier, fortunately, with all his hilarious tics in place. A rare kind of non-fiction, with sentences that keep on giving long after your eye has sailed on.”
Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation
“Another Great Day at Sea, Geoff Dyer's chronicle of his two weeks in residence aboard the USS George H. W. Bush, is a tale of routine, lyricism and terror, of long hours and hard work, and of camaraderie and conviction, which are a form of faith. Original, humane, and very funny, Another Great Day is another great book by an incomparable writer.”
David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service
“Another Great Day at Sea is what we’ve all come to expect from Geoff Dyer—another great book. I loved everything about it. It’s brilliantly observed, beautifully written, incisive, funny, and filled with stirring truths about life and the value of service.”
Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts: Stories
“A great day is any day you get to read Geoff Dyer, and this book is no exception. Witty, empathetic, and insatiably curious, Dyer is the perfect guide to the floating world of an American aircraft carrier. With Another Great Day at Sea he makes a perfect night landing on the ‘postage stamp,' with élan to spare.”
Tom Bissell, author of Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
“I have read Geoff Dyer on World War I, jazz, photography, the Venice Biennale, and D. H. Lawrence, among many other subjects. It's as though his mind is slave to some unpredictable Internet browser inaccessible to the rest of us. His new book—an inimitably close study of life on an American aircraft carrier—is one of his best, funniest, and most humane yet. Geoff Dyer remains an unconventionally great writer—perhaps the most bafflingly great writer at work in the English language today.”
Novelist and nonfiction author Dyer (Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, 2012, etc.) goes to sea for an immersive, sometimes-sobering ride aboard an American aircraft carrier.What's a fussy eater who's averse to sharing a room, too tall for cramped corridors and who bears an abhorrence for anything to do with engines or oil aboard the USS George H.W. Bush? From the moment he arrived on the flight deck, there was never a dull moment, which also meant there was never a moment's peace. But the crash and thunder of jets taking off competed with a stultifying muddle of military acronyms, which Dyer tried futilely to comprehend. Of course, this British writer noted for subverting genres is much more interested in the people. He describes a Whitman-esque quality of a "fulfilled and industrious America, each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise," finding himself happily "surrounded by American voices, American friendliness, American politeness." Dyer also locates an unexpected poetics of carrier life, the terrible beauty and lyrical maneuvers of a machine of war (and the self-perpetuating requirement of oil to make the machine go). The author rejects the microminutiae beloved of many reporters, instead capturing a broader canvas with painterly precision. Though he explodes a few persistent myths, more than once, Dyer was moved by a promotion ceremony, an act of consideration, honor or devotion to duty. Ultimately, even as mere observer, he felt privileged to be there yet just as eager to resume his normal life back on "the beach." Though respectful, generally admiring, of those in military service, Dyer remained ambivalent; he fires broadsides against numbing (if necessary) routine, the simplistic thinking of religious conservatism prevalent on board and the inherent contradictions of having a military presence off the coasts of other lands in a way that would never be countenanced near American shores.As usual for Dyer, eccentrically intriguing, occasionally dipping into boyish wonder and spasms of sentiment.
You've gotta love British author Dyer, the author of so many border-bending books, from fiction to nonfiction to criticism (e.g., the Somerset Maugham Award winner But Beautiful). It's not so surprising to see him writing an account of life aboard an American aircraft carrier, since he devoted many hours during childhood to building model airplanes.
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Read an Excerpt
For the duration of my stay the carrier remained a three-dimensional maze of walkways, stairs and hatches but at some point we always ended up back in the hangar bay—the second most interesting place on the boat (after the flight deck). We passed through there straight after our tour of the kitchen and would do so later the same day, after dark, when it was illuminated by a pale yellow light (less visible from a distance). Now the Arabian sun was peeking through the open expanse of the elevator bay, eager to get a glimpse of whatever was going on in this outpost of industrial America.
Like a buffalo brought down by a lion who then summons the rest of her pride to tuck in, an F-18 was being pecked, prodded and taken apart by a gang of mechanics and engineers. They swarmed over it, drawing metallic entrails from the fuselage, digging into its cockpit and burrowing away in the bowels of the engine. They did this with the utmost care, many of them wearing the soft suede or chamois over-shoes I’d noticed earlier—the heavy industrial equivalent of carpet slippers—to prevent damage to the plane’s delicate skin. The concern was reciprocated: little padded pouches were tied to the sharp edges of the plane’s fins and wings so that heads were not gashed as people hurried by.
A brown-shirted woman was perched on the wing, cross-legged as if at a festival of future archaeology, concentrating closely on the all-important part she was unscrewing. Having taken the component out of the wing she was now coating it with some kind of grease, glue, anti-freeze, lube or whatever. I apologize for the discrepancy between the precision of the task and the imprecision of my description of that task. I have never liked anything that involves engines, oil or fiddly intricate work even though it is, in a way, in my blood. My dad served his apprenticeship and worked at Gloster Aircraft Company, where one of the first operational jet fighters, the Gloster Meteor, was built. Some days he and his workmates would eat lunch outside, munching their bread-rationed sandwiches, watching planes take off and fly around the shirey skies. (My parents were much on my mind while I was on the boat; my mum had died four months before I came on board; my dad would die, quite suddenly, three weeks after I got back.)
A couple of planes away a fuel cell bladder was being replaced. It looked like a cross between a black python and a massively deflated paddling pool. The work was being overseen by a civilian who, like almost all the civilians on the boat, was ex-military (a Vietnam vet from helicopters, search and rescue). If you met him in the street you would guess straightaway that he had been in the military: a directness, a strength (physical, yes, but also of purpose and identity), an instinct for straight talking that is manifest even when (especially when) silent. A young woman was curled up yoga-ishly on the wing of this plane too, replacing something. The fact that she was wearing a cranial and an oil-smeared brown jersey made her eyes even more luminous. I was glad to have an excuse to talk with her. She wiped her face with the back of her hand, as you do when your fingers are oily. It wasn’t exactly a gender-reversal thing going on, but the essential choreography of the scene was being acted out in garages throughout the world: a woman being told what’s wrong with her car, in terms barely comprehensible, by a swarthy grease monkey confident of his knowledge and not embarrassed about the oil-smudged pictures of chicks, mainly blonde, who provide a silent chorus of assent when the complexity of the repair and its estimated cost is eventually revealed. No pin-ups like that here, of course: less, I think, because the women on board might find such things offensive than because any man who even considered such forms of decoration would instantly feel like a total dick. A limp dick at that. It’s striking how many of the world’s little problems—and many of its big ones too—are eliminated by the simplest of solutions: having women around. Just over a fifth of the ship’s company were women. Only men in senior positions were old enough to remember what it was like to have men-only boats. One of these explained to me that the main difference, after women came aboard, was ‘that the boat smelled a bit nicer because the guys showered more.’ Other than that, what surprised him was the speed with which resistance to the idea of gender integration was followed by two related and equally baffling questions: what had all the fuss been about—and why didn’t we do this earlier?*
A stranger to the workplace, I needed only a short time on the boat to realize that the workplace—not pubs, parties or clubs—is the great breeding ground of crushes. Over the years I’d developed a strong idea of all the things about office life that I could not tolerate—like using a shared toilet—but it occurred to me now that I couldn’t take the drain and strain of having crushes on my co-workers. One was spared that at home alone—but one was missing out on it too.
We chatted some more, me and the bright-eyed mechanic who, it turned out, was from Wyoming. (‘Wyoming!’ I trilled. ‘Really?’) It also turned out that another part of our meeting failed to conform to the usual woman-with-car-talking-to-manly-mechanic scenario. Namely that this mechanic had a husband at home who was an ex-Marine. Ah. And they had a four-year-old daughter. Her dad—the dad of the woman I was talking to, grandfather of the four-year-old—was a mechanic and she’d always wanted to be a mechanic herself. It was easy to imagine her as a teenage tomboy, able to mend punctures or tighten a climbing frame that had gone wonky. She was twenty-two now and, looking at her (which I had no desire not to do) I found it difficult to imagine anyone doing what they were doing more contentedly. I dismissed this as soon as I thought it, as soon as I looked around at everyone else, at all the other mechanics and engineers who were going about their business with such concentrated contentment. Even the people who weren’t working were working out, on the exercise bikes or in one of the fitness classes which seemed a 24/7 feature of the hangar deck. Everywhere you looked, everyone was doing something, if not working on the planes then pushing or towing things on trolleys. It was like Whitman’s ‘Song for Occupations’ in an entirely military setting (with a special emphasis on avionics): a vision of a fulfilled and industrious America, each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise, no friction between the person and the task. Which made me think: why not name an aircraft carrier after Whitman? And why stop at Walt? Why not re-brand all the carriers and give them the names of poets? Show me one good reason why the USS Ronald Reagan shouldn’t be called the USS Emily Dickinson.
* I have recorded what I saw and heard, and my impressions of what I saw and heard. For an investigation of sexual abuse in the US military see Kirby Dick’s documentary The Invisible War.
Meet the Author
GEOFF DYER’s books include But Beautiful (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award); The Missing of the Somme; Out of Sheer Rage; The Ongoing Moment (winner of the ICP Infinity Award for writing on photography); Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; and Zona. His many awards include the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and, most recently, a National Book Critics Circle Award for the essay collection Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and his books have been translated into twenty-four languages. Dyer currently lives in Venice, California.
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This book is just about as terrible as it gets when it comes to first hand reporting from a war zone/ship at sea. I was deployed on the BUSH and I thought it would be interesting to read a book from an outsiders perspective about something I lived through and about people I know personally, boy was that a mistake. Overall this is a quick read (took me a little over 3 hours one evening) but all I really took away was: 1. Mr. Dyer is high maintenance!!! He was absolutely appalled at the ideal of sleeping in a room with someone else (seriously, you are crammed on a ship with 5,500 people, a two man stateroom is a luxury) let alone going to he head (bathroom) with someone else. 2. Mr. Dyer has no clue about the military (he actually thought the ship had a bar, places to play ping pong or Badminton). While this may seem trivial to me it shows how he really did not prepare at all for this assignment, basically all he cared about was getting a single man stateroom and I guess he would figure out everything else when he landed. If he actually cared to know what he was getting himself into a quick google or youtube search would have answered all his questions. 3. The food is terrible and apparently he complained enough to where he finally got to eat with the Captain and have the CO's chief make him some food. 4. Apparently he was quasi stalking a married enlisted mechanic, he mentions her numerous times in the book, the be honest its a little creepy to read and seems more like page filler (I hope to god she never reads this book) Overall Mr. Dyer did nothing for this great ship or its crew by writing this book. From an insiders perspective (I actually helped host a few Distinguished Visitors (DV'S) during my tour) Mr. Dyer was given the standard DV tour but instead of the usual 1 day trip that most DV's get his was spread out over 2 weeks and I think the boredom shows. After 24 hours the excitement that comes from being on an aircraft carrier wares out and the daily grind sets in, I am not sure what his intentions were when he originally set out to write this book but with pretty much nothing to do but walk around and talk to random people it shows by the way this book just floats around with no real purpose or direction. Basically his publisher told him he needed 200+ pages to collect his check so he filled 208 pages with meaningless ramblings. If you want to actually read a book about what its like on board an carrier please don't get this book!!
This outsider's look into the operations of a modern US aircraft carrier does an excellent job telling the people side of the equation. The author's final chapter shows how much he bonded with the USN crew and I gather he might have wished to stay aboard for a longer cruise. I highly recommend this book both for peering into that technical world but also to see the interplay from lowest Deck Division sailor to Naval Aviators and the Captain himself, all of whom make the book, and ship, live.
It only took a few pages before I realized I had wasted money buying this book. However, I did read the entire book, hoping that there would be some redeeming literary contributions somewhere, but alas, none came forward. From the initial issues (I need my own room, the VIP room I got was to noisy, the food stinks the delays for e-mail) ) to the British slang (the "snapper" the "scran" "scoff") the references to English literature,. What could have been an interesting understanding of one of the largest warships in the world, was a hard to read, yet sophomoric account of a few weeks at sea. The author is critical of everything, and certainly showed that he is a prima donna, and that he wasn't treated right on this ship. Best advice - If it's free, say no thanks and don't waste your time
Not what I expected. The book is written by a British author who spent 2 weeks onboard of US carrier “George H.W.Bush”. It is irreverent and witty in the British way, but otherwise… Well, it centered not so much on the warship and its crew (the stuff I’d personally be interested in) as on author’s own experience. More impressionist and introspective than insightful and informative. I grade books as Buy and Keep ( BK), Read a Library Copy (RLC) and Once-I-Put-It-Down-I-Couldn’t-Pick-It-Up (OIPD-ICPU). This one is a weakfish RLC, but if you skip it you won’t miss much.
As a veteran of USS Nimitz, I thought this book would be interesting. Wrong. Dyer is a prima donna who has little to no appreciation for where he is or the real purpose of an aircraft carrier. I'm not sure how the crew didn't cut his "tour" short and send him packing. BTW - I had to give it one star or B&N wouldn't let the review post.