How To Be Idle

How To Be Idle

by Tom Hodgkinson


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How to be Idle is Tom Hodgkinson's entertaining guide to reclaiming your right to be idle. As Oscar Wilde said, doing nothing is hard work. The Protestant work ethic has most of us in its thrall, and the idlers of this world have the odds stacked against them. But here, at last, is a book that can help. From Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the Idler, comes How to be Idle, an antidote to the work-obsessed culture which puts so many obstacles between ourselves and our dreams. Hodgkinson presents us with a laid-back argument for a new contract between routine and chaos, an argument for experiencing life to the full and living in the moment. Ranging across a host of issues that may affect the modern idler - sleep, the world of work, pleasure and hedonism, relationships, bohemian living, revolution - he draws on the writings of such well-known apologists for idleness as Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson and Nietzsche. His message is clear: take control of your life and reclaim your right to be idle. 'Well written, funny and with a scholarly knowledge of the literature of laziness, it is both a book to be enjoyed at leisure and to change lives' Sunday Times 'In his life and in this book the author is 100 per cent on the side of the angels' Literary Review 'The book is so stuffed with wisdom and so stuffed with good jokes that I raced through it like a speed freak' Independent on Sunday Tom Hodgkinson is the founder and editor of The Idler and the author of How to be Idle, How to be Free, The Idle Parent and Brave Old World. In spring 2011 he founded The Idler Academy in London, a bookshop, coffeehouse and cultural centre which hosts literary events and offers courses in academic and practical subjects - from Latin to embroidery. Its motto is 'Liberty through Education'. Find out more at

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780141015064
Publisher: Penguin UK
Publication date: 06/26/2007
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.05(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Tom Hodgkinson is the founder and editor of The Idler and the bestselling author of How to be Idle, How to be Free, The Idle Parent and Brave Old World. In 2011 he and his partner Victoria launched the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment, a business which offers online and real-world courses in the liberal arts and practical skills, from philosophy and ukulele to business skills and singing. For a weekly update of news and comment from the world of The Idler, join Tom's mailing list at

Read an Excerpt

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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How to Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
midlevelbureaucrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Picked this one up on a lark, and it's a been a life-changing, mood-altering kind of book for me. To hell with Steven Covey and his 7 habits. give me an ale and I'm off skiving. There's more to life than work. Ain't it a damn truth.
Mendoza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Any book that endorses sleep and putting off everything possible until another day is for me.'With advice, information, and reflection on such matters as lying in, long lunches, and the art of the nap. How to be Idle gives you all the inspiration needed to take a break from your fast-paced, overworked life.'The whole book is soaked with nostalgia for the turn-of-the-century English gentleman's lifestyle. And that is an added treat for me. Although the book does have problems holding up it's tongue in cheek attitude and keeping the humor going. I'd say it was stretched out a few too many pages. Other than that, I find it enjoyable to skim through and pick out passages.