How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
I loved reading this book. It was a while ago now and it (funnily enough) has found its home in the bathroom, in reach of anyone wanting to while away a moment or two (ahem ahem). Its chapters are divided into hours in the day and starts off with 8 a.m., titled ‘Waking Up Is Hard To Do’. Well, in today’s day and age, in these crazy, never-ending, productive-and-destructive cycle of creation and consumption and fear and terror at stillness and worry at loneliness and the assuaging of silence with telly and videos and music from the internet, waking up at 8 a.m. seems positively late. Tom Hodgkinson thinks 8 a.m. is far too early for one to leave one’s bed. So he suggests you don’t do it.
The book is quite straightforward in what it is promoting – idleness – and Hodgkinson gives grounds for his arguments with creativity, intelligence and excellent research. Instead of being a silly book encouraging laziness, he highlights the changes in our society and how this has affected our behaviour. He posits that pre-industrial revolution, the majority of people worked to feed (and all the rest) themselves, often taking time off between jobs. Taking time for oneself was not unusual and society was based more on community than society’s concept of usefulness and productivity. He also gives modern examples of how our social structure reinforces the negative drivers which push us to work harder and often these include making us feel anxious. Our newspapers are filled with saddening and worrying news of the world, whether it’s terrorism or the possibility of another recession. They also have sections which seem to act as a comfort. These would be the magazine supplements or the entertainment, design or fashion sections. Yet, these sections are, more often than not, plugging products for us to buy. Instead of acting as a comfort in themselves, they offer comfort through products – buy this sofa and your house will be beautiful and life will be better, buy the latest fashion and you’ll appear more attractive and life will be better, go to these places (abroad or at home) and you’ll feel better. The free newspapers on London’s tubes are almost perfect examples of this, serving as half news and half entertainment.
Society wants us to spend and it wants us to build wealth. However, the people you see on the tube in the early hours or late after work are not really increasing their wealth. They are increasing someone else’s. The real people with money do not take the tube – why would you? It’s a sad place where people look sad, tired and unwell. If you could avoid it, you probably would. What Tom Hodgkinson seems to be saying is why not get off the tube and take a wander around? Bugger work, it’s not really helping you that much. Your life might be better doing something else and being somewhere else.
So much of what he says I agree with. The only criticism for this book is that it doesn’t lend much help as to the ‘how’ of being idle. How can you thoroughly embrace idleness when you need money to live? How can you be idle when you still need to carve a life for yourself? And how can you be idle and choose to be idle if you work in any of the service sectors? If doctors, nurses, postmen, vets, farmers, policemen all chose to be idle than to do their jobs, to make hay when the sun shines, then how would they or the people they serve benefit?
Overall, it is such an enjoyable read which really sheds new light on the processes of society which we take for granted and accept at face value that I definitely suggest you pick up a copy yourself.
Tom Hodgkinson created The Idler, which is a literary and journalistic publication. This is its manifesto. It’s kinda brilliant.