HOW TO BE IDLE by Tom Hodgkinson


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An intelligent slugabed, bemoaning the modern world’s love affair with productivity, presents 24 meditations on the art of being idle, one for each hour of the day.

Hodgkinson, co-publisher of the British magazine The Idler, begins at 8 a.m. with a discussion of the alarm clock and the horrors of waking up in general. (Here, he makes the first of many references to Victorian idler and humorist Jerome K. Jerome, whose essay “On Being Idle” appeared in 1889.) Other topics the author contemplates as the day goes by are “Sleeping In” (John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s week in bed), “The Ramble,” “The First Drink of the Day” and so on. “The Death of Lunch” is bemoaned. “Smoking” is celebrated. “The Pub” is praised. “Time for Tea” cites a lovely 16th-century Chinese poem that lists occasions on which to drink England’s favorite beverage: “Before a bright window and a clean desk. / With charming friends and slender concubines.” Each piece addresses the delights of a particular aspect of doing nothing, its literary and social precedents, and the regrettable reasons for its fall from favor. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution both come in for censure as chief villains; Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class are cited, among countless others. So many others, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to believe the author is a true adherent of his creed. A great amount of (gasp) work must have gone in to researching this paean to the pleasures of doing little; the bibliography alone comprises nearly 150 items. Indeed, with all of these literary citations and closely argued points, How to be Idle becomes rather heavy going after three or four sections. No matter: no idler worth his salt will read it in a single sitting—there’s too much fishing, tea drinking and napping to be done.

Charming, as all idlers should be.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-077968-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2005