5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Witty, well-written, wise in parts, way-out in others,
This review is from: How To Be Idle (Paperback)
Tom Hodgkinson is in the company of many thinkers who deplore the way our life since the Industrial Revolution has become a clock-dictated rat-race; the Puritan work ethic; the inculcation of guilt for taking life easy, taking time off to meditate or to do "nothing", which in fact is often creative time; the importance attached to having a job, which is often selling your time for unfulfilling or even stultifying activity. Many people work only because they want the money to spend on goods they don't really need. Typical of the cavalier advice which Hodgkinson scatters throughout the book is this: "Be fearless, quit your job! You have nothing to lose but your anxieties, debts and misery!" Or take a part-time job: "There is certainly a financial knock, but most find that the loss of income is easily compensated for by the extra time." Tell that to the millions of people who have to work full time to feed their families and who cannot be masters of their own time!
Indulging in Romantic visions of the past, Hodgkinson says that the poor were happier in the pre-industrial age, when work was not dictated by the clock, when people could multi-task and, if they wanted to, take time off to be idle. Holidays would appear to be good for idling, and Hodgkinson has an interesting chapter on their history. There are holidays of which he approves and holidays (especially organized ones) of which he disapproves. Best of all, of course, would be a life which allows so much opportunity for idling that there is really no desire for holidays at all. For those who are tied to the daily grind he has a chapter extolling skiving off work: the skiver is simply "stealing back time that has been stolen from him." "A four-hour [working] day is an eminently sensible way of operating our lives". He approves of long lie-ins, of napping, above all of long siestas. You should never stint yourself of sleep; and in dozing and in dreams some people have their most creative ideas. He advocates drinking (and don't worry too much about hangovers the next day - the best treatment for them is to go to bed), smoking and the taking of drugs like Ecstasy.
For Hodgkinson, idling is not only good in itself, but is also implicitly a rebellion against a society that demands unrelenting, soulless and exploited work from us. When the rebellion becomes explicit, as it does in strikes (the idea of using a refusal to work as a weapon was surely invented by "an idler of genius") or even in riots, he is sympathetic to such protests. But he is not a socialist: socialists interfere too much in the lives of individuals. "The answer, perhaps, is in anarchism."
What would be the ideal idler's sex-life? "Sex for idlers should be messy, drunken, bawdy, lazy. It should be wicked, wanton and lewd, dirty to the point where it is embarrassing to look at one another in the morning." "But, as one of the great idle pleasures, sex appears to be surrounded by an awful lot of problems and anxieties". So there is something to be said for pornography: "endless fantasy and no one to please except yourself."
Hodgkinson has read widely and has been far from idle in finding quotations from a host of writers from many countries and many periods, in prose and in poetry, who share his opinions: his bibliography runs to eight pages. In addition to references in the main text, there are 37 pages in which he gives us eight longer extracts from his reading. His own book is very well written and eloquent.
His analysis of the ills of our unhealthy rat-race society is astute. Some of his prescriptions about how to live in it are quite workable; but others are wholly unrealistic for people less fortunately placed than he is, even if these agreed with his analysis and would like to rebel in the ways he advocates.
There are many flashes of wisdom in the book, but he also includes in his defence of idleness some aspects and attitudes which did not appeal to me at all.