Tuesday, 24 February 2015

You need to read | How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

Ok, a wee disclaimer. When I say you need to read, I don't actually mean it's compulsory. I won't come round your house and beat you with a type writer if you don't. That's a special service. But we all know reading is a lot less fun with someone breathing down your neck, puffing with anticipation. So er, I won't do that. *holds breath*. I do like to rhyme though, so sue me. Or sue the person who developed the rhyming scheme of the English language. Or you could always avoid expensive litigation and take me on my word when I say this is definitely more of a friendly suggestion than an order. 

Friendly suggestion, really good book, no suing. We're all winners really. I picked up 'How to be Idle' at work because it had a gentle looking cover. 'This is the sort of book,' I thought to myself, 'that I can peruse gently.' 

Gentleness was prominent in my thoughts that day at work.

Gentle perusing is not to be underestimated, but this book turns out to have depths that bely its creamy cover. In addition to being a hymn to the pleasures of idleness (which, of course, are legion), it is a rousing call to action. Idle action, but action nonetheless.

Written by the founder of the idler magazine, Tom Hodgkinson, and follows the structure of the day, each chapter devoted to the idler's eye view of a pastime or pleasure. When a book has a chapter entitled '4pm: Time for Tea', I'll admit that it doesn't have to work hard to please me. 

However, this book did not just please me, it surprised me too. It makes the very persuasive argument that to be idle is in fact an attitude of great political power for all of us worker bees. It is an attitude which claims back your time from those who want to make us believe that the only goals worth pursuing are a job and a mortgage. The author divides the world into 'idlers' and 'botherers'. It is fairly obvious that the latter category is not his cup of tea when he places Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Mao in there ('before all else,' he says, 'they were simply petty-minded bureaucrats writ frighteningly large'). 

It is interesting to note that of all the great idlers mentioned (there are many: Ted Hughes, Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and the oriental philosopher Lin Yutang to name a few), women are conspicuous by their absence. I wonder if this is because historically women have not had the space to glory in their idleness that men have. I have to be honest and say this is something that bothers me about the book: it never really addresses the fact that to be unabashedly idle is a luxury that to a great extent comes with privilege. We can't all be great writers / philosophers / gadabouts, and the pleasures of the idle life for most of us must for most of us mingle with the pleasures of work (paid and otherwise). At one point, for example, he suggested throwing away your alarm clock and I could hear my diary wincing from the other room. 

Having said that, this book presents  an appealing philosophy that most of us could work into our daily lives to some extent. And it most certainly does not take itself too seriously (in the chapter on  the first drink of the day he muses: 'I suppose if we were really happy, there would be no need to drink at all but a life without booze seems to be a pretty miserable prospect').

So yeah, you don't need to read it, but it may enhance your life if you do. Go forth and do whatever you want! 

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