Hippo Manchester
December 22, 2005


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Books: How to Be Idle, by Tom Hodgkinson (HarperCollins, 2005, 286 pages.)


Maybe Christmas isn’t the best time of year for How to Be Idle. Maybe they knew what they were doing when they released this back in summer (don’t forget, it’s still officially Fall). Then again, that’s why you should read it now.

“The fear that keeps you chained to your desk, staring at your screen, does not serve your spirit,” author Tom Hodskinson writes. Nor, I would argue, does the fear that propels you through the mall in December.

“Time should be savoured, not endured,” Hodgkinson writes, and can you dispute him?

Starting with 8 a.m. (“Waking Up is Hard to Do”) and working all the way around the clock, Hodgkinson tells us how, and why, to attain a serene, fulfilling idleness no matter the time of day. His chapters on “The Death of Lunch” and “Time for Tea” are particularly good; “Party Time” (3 a.m.) ponders the benefits of sex, drugs and dancing but also points out, “the real lesson of hedonism is that we should attempt to enjoy all moments, not just those ones when we are out of are heads.” (Hodgkinson also says that if anything should be enough to scare one away from excessive drinking, it’s the prospect of a life in “the programme” that is Alcoholics Anonymous.) He’s just as thoughtful on the importance of the post-party chill-out session as on the party itself, and he gives space to those “dark nights of the soul” that are the other side of 3 a.m.

How to Be Idle is both whimsical and substantive, sometimes humorous and sometimes serious, most often both simultaneously, to wit: “If we realized that meditation simply means staring into space, then it would be more accessible to more people. It’s easy.”

The Idler, an online zine Hodgkinson edits, awaits your idle moments at www.idler.co.uk; he also points us to whywork.org, a Web site run by a group of people very seriously promoting “viable alternatives to wage slavery.” (Hodgkinson holds that the idea that idleness is a sin was invented by capitalist bosses who profit when the rest of us work like soulless machines.)

Most of all, Hodgkinson seems to want to banish the self-flagellation that accompanies moments of idleness these days. (His mother used to scream at him to get out of bed; he carried the guilt about his “morning slothfulness” for years.)

It’s a small book, good for idling with, a perfect café read – though Hodgkinson would prefer you choose a lazy local café over a bustling, industrious chain. 

— Lisa Parsons