IT'S PURELY COINCIDENCE—and poor time-management vis-à-vis deadlines—that I spent the evening of Memorial Day on my couch, reading Geoff Dyer's Another Great Day at Sea.
But it couldn't have been more appropriate: In Another Great Day, Dyer describes two weeks he spent as writer-in-residence aboard the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier. A gangly Brit among Americans, the oldest person on board by two decades, and an atheist on a ship packed with zealous Christians, Dyer is the ultimate outsider by almost every possible measure—which makes his clear regard for the men and women serving on the ship particularly poignant. (Of one female admiral, he writes, "I had the feeling I'd had many times before on the boat, far more frequently than I had it in the normal course of civilian life, of intense liking for someone combined with intense admiration.")
Through Dyer's eyes, we're overwhelmed by the scale of the aircraft carrier, deafened by the racket of jets landing, intrigued and a bit weirded out by the pervasive Christian elements, grouchy about the quality of the food. Most of all, Dyer is struck by the constant, endless industry of the ship: "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."
Dyer is a novelist and nonfiction writer who's taken on subjects as varied as yoga, DH Lawrence, and jazz—he's got a ranging, curious mind and an unapologetically finicky on-the-page personality. Put him on a boat for two weeks, and the results are not quite reportage, not quite memoir, but more like a book-length personal essay that somehow never grows wearying, as he interrogates the logistics of feeding, housing, and organizing the ship's thousands of residents.
Another Great Day at Sea is the first title from Writers in Residence, an organization devoted to "recording and describing key institutions of the modern world—through the talent of some of the greatest writers on the planet." This fall, we'll hear from Douglas Coupland on Bell Labs, and from Pulitzer Prize-winner Liaquat Ahamed on the International Monetary Fund. With Another Great Day at Sea, the series is off to a promising, illuminating start.