Today represents something of a first for the Missing Zero blog, as I undertake my inaugural attempt at a book review. In my usual way, however, said review will not necessarily conform to the standard format for such things.
The book under review (I think) is called How to Be Idle. And is written by the well-known exponent of the “slow movement” Tom something-or-other.
Now, at the outset, let me point out that I’ve been so influenced by the title in question’s call for universal idleness that my review is in essence merely an idle exploration of the book’s various merits, be they literary, philosophical or otherwise.
So it might be best to think of this review as being a kind of verbal plug one of your friends might make for a book he or she has read a year or so ago. For indeed that is the length of time that has elapsed since I first read this work of nonfiction currently being reviewed.
Anyway, from what I recall, the book is divided up into chapters that correspond to the hours of a single day. Within which, examples are given from throughout history as to how various practices of idleness have been observed down through the ages.
An example might be, for instance, that 6.00pm has traditionally been associated with the cocktail hour. And snippets of poetry and comic observations of celebrated wags like Oscar Wilde will be mixed together with anarchist sentiment to explore and celebrate the golden age/hour of the gin sling and the vodka martini.
Believe me, I’m not doing Tom-what’s-his-face enough justice with this example, though, because his style is both very British and superbly droll, in an educated-at-Eton, English-public-school-kind of way.
I suppose, the main thrust of his book’s central argument is that it’s completely crazy to accept that as human beings we must work from 9 till 5 everyday, when historically this was most certainly never the norm. Agricultural laborers, he points out, for example, traditionally worked seasonally and spent their down time mostly drunk, waiting for harvest time to again come around.
In fact, he says his own inspiration for founding his literary career came from protracted soaking sessions in the bathtub, where he just spent time simply loafing off and idly musing about whatever took his fancy.
Tellingly, his biggest beef seems to be with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote which states, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. What proof is there, the book’s author indignantly asks, that this oft-quoted phrase even has any validity whatsoever?
But there really is much more to commend the writing than these few examples. To wit, the entry on the dying art of the long business lunch was a particular favorite of mine, along with the similarly extolled virtues of learning to look forward to (nay, even love) the morning-after hangover.
In conclusion, while confessing that I never bothered to finish reading How to Be Idle, I readily identify it as being a formative text in the creation of my personal philosophy on life. If I had to give it a score, I wouldn’t. On the grounds that reading is not a sport, wherein points are awarded for goal-scoring activities and the like.
Suffice to say, if a copy of How to Be Idle should drift your way, at some time in the future, be sure to idle away a few hours within its deceptively illuminating pages. It just might change your life…