How to Be Idle

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With advice, information, and reflection on such matters as lying in, long lunches, the art of the nap, and how to skive, How to Be Idle gives you all the inspiration you need to take a break from your fast-paced, overworked life.

From the founding editor of the The Idler, the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet ...

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With advice, information, and reflection on such matters as lying in, long lunches, the art of the nap, and how to skive, How to Be Idle gives you all the inspiration you need to take a break from your fast-paced, overworked life.

From the founding editor of the The Idler, the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler — sleep, work, pleasure, relationships — bemoaning the cultural skepticism of idleness while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Johnson, and Nietzsche — all of whom have admitted to doing their very best work in bed.

It's a well-known fact that Europeans spend fewer hours at work a week than Americans. So it's only befitting that one of them — the very clever, extremely engaging, and quite hilarious Hodgkinson — should have the wittiest and most useful insights into the fun and nature of loafing.

Who wouldn't want to blow off work for a day and just "be idle"? The key to a life of pleasure, freedom, and guilt-free lounging around is in your hands.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Inside every diligent workaholic is a complacent loafer. In our work-obsessed society, salvaging that inner good-for-nothing is no easy business. Fortunately, Tom Hodgkinson, the leisure-loving founder of The Idler, has composed an engaging guide to being happy while doing nothing. In 24 pain-free chapters, he explains how to live slow and die old.
USA Today
“A true literary gem... irresistable”
Publishers Weekly
When your alarm clock jolts you awake in the morning, do you wish you could just lie in bed, read a book, sip a cup of tea and be idle all day? Hodgkinson, founder of the Idler magazine, does. And in this book he presents 24 essays defending life's idle pleasures, which are, he says, vilified by our modern society. He meditates on sleeping in, fishing, smoking and drinking, and even waxes poetic about the hangover. The whole book is soaked with nostalgia for the turn-of-the-century English gentleman's lifestyle; Hodgkinson defends his arguments by quoting Jerome K. Jerome, G.K. Chesterton and, of course, that icon of British foppery, Oscar Wilde. Although billed as tongue-in-cheek witticisms about the idle life, the book fails to maintain the comic tone. In his chapter on the evils of the 9-to-5 job ("wage slavery," as the author calls it), Hodgkinson cites Heinrich Himmler as a spokesperson for the defense of work, tacitly comparing shuffling papers in a cubicle for 40 hours a week to the horrors of Auschwitz. The book gives tantalizing anthropological insights into society's views on those lazy habits that the author so enjoys, but the viewpoint is so antiquated and condescending toward the poor slobs who must actually go to work every day that readers will often find themselves staring aghast at the page. B&w line illus. Agent, Cat Ledger. (May 15) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In these stress-filled times of dashing from one meeting to another and often running behind, we should all give ourselves the gift of reading this debut by the founding editor of Idler magazine. Arguing that the modern work ethic enslaves us all and that joy and wisdom have been replaced by work and worry, Hodgkinson insists that we can create our own paradise by defending our right to be lazy. Quoting literature, poetry, and philosophy, he offers a humorous peek at the worth and wonders of slowing down. The chapters are cunningly arranged according to the hours of the day, illustrating that every minute offers opportunities for idleness. Hodgkinson revels in the pleasures of sleeping in, taking leisurely lunches, napping, and other such pursuits. Artfully combining British and American perspectives, this book promises to be just as big a hit here as it was in the United Kingdom. Recommended for most public libraries.-Wendy Lee, Marshall-Lyon Cty. Lib., MN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 foursections. 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060779689
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/10/2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.38 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Hodgkinson is still doing what he's always done, which is a mixture of editing magazines, writing articles, and putting on parties. He was born in 1968, founded The Idler in 1993, and now lives in Devon, England. He is also the author of The Freedom Manifesto.

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First Chapter

How to Be Idle

Chapter One

8 a.m.
Waking Up Is Hard to Do

Let us be lazy in everything, except in loving and drinking, except in being lazy.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81)

I wonder if that hard-working American rationalist and agent of industry Benjamin Franklin knew how much misery he would cause in the world when, back in 1757, high on puritanical zeal, he popularized and promoted the trite and patently untrue aphorism "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise"?

It is a sad fact that from early childhood we are tyrannized by the moral myth that it is right, proper and good to leap out of bed the moment we wake in order to set about some useful work as quickly and cheerfully as possible. In my own case, it was my mother whom I remember very clearly screaming at me to get out of bed every morning. As I lay there in blissful comfort, eyes closed, trying to hang on to a fading dream, doing my utmost to ignore her shouting, I would start to calculate the shortest time it would take me to get up, have breakfast and go to school and still arrive with seconds to spare before assembly started. All this mental ingenuity and effort I expended in order to enjoy a few more moments of slumber. Thus the idler begins to learn his craft.

Parents begin the brainwashing process and then school works yet harder to indoctrinate its charges with the necessity of early rising. My own personal guilt about feeling actually physically incapable of rising early in the morning continued well into my twenties. For years I fought with the feelings of self-hatred that accompanied my morning listlessness. I would make resolutions to rise at eight. As a student, I developed complex alarm systems. I bought a timer plug, and set it to turn on my coffee maker and also the record player, on which I had placed my loudest record, It's Alive by The Ramones. 7:50 a.m. was the allotted time. I had set the record to come on at an ear-splitting volume. Being a live recording, the first track was prefaced by crowd noise. The cheering and whooping would wake me, and I'd know I had only a few seconds to leap out of bed and turn the volume down before Dee Dee Ramone would grunt: "one-two-three-four" and my housemates and I would be assaulted by the opening chords of "Rockaway Beach," turned up to 11. The idea was that I would then drink the coffee and jolt my body into wakefulness. It half worked. When I heard the crowd noise, I would leap out of bed and totter for a moment. But what happened then, of course, was that I would turn the volume right down, ignore the coffee and climb back to the snuggly warm embrace of my duvet. Then I'd slowly come to my senses at around 10:30 a.m., doze until twelve, and finally stagger to my feet in a fit of self-loathing. I was a real moralist back then: I even made a poster for my wall which read: "Edification first, then have some fun." It was hip in that it was a lyric from hardcore punk band Bad Brains, but the message, I think you'll agree, is a dreary one. Nowadays I do it the other way around.

It wasn't until many years later that I learned that I was not alone in my sluggishness and in experiencing the conflicting emotions of pleasure and guilt which surrounded it. There is wealth of literature on the subject. And it is generally written by the best, funniest, most joy-giving writers. In 1889, the Victorian humorist Jerome K. Jerome published an essay called "On Being Idle." Imagine how much better I felt when I read the following passage, in which Jerome reflects on the pleasure of snoozing:

Ah! how delicious it is to turn over and go to sleep again: "just for five minutes." Is there any human being, I wonder, besides the hero of a Sunday-school "tale for boys," who ever gets up willingly? There are some men to whom getting up at the proper time is an utter impossibility. If eight o'clock happens to be the time that they should turn out, then they lie till halfpast. If circumstances change and half-past eight becomes early enough for them, then it is nine before they can rise. They are like the statesman of whom it was said that he was always punctually half an hour late. They try all manner of schemes. They buy alarm clocks (artful contrivances that go off at the wrong time and alarm the wrong people) ...
How to Be Idle. Copyright © by Tom Hodgkinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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