What We’re Reading: The Book of Idle Pleasures

June 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve long been a fan of the writings of Tom Hodgkinson and his crew at The Idler. His philosophy (and practical tips) about releasing yourself from the chokehold of modern life by embracing a low key existence struck a chord with me when I discovered his book “The Freedom Manifesto” over five years ago.

My recent weekend of totally transcendent boredom encouraged me to retrieve “The Book of Idle Pleasures,” (eds. Dan Kiernan and Tom Hodgkinson), from my shelf.  It’s filled with insightful reflections on the things we do for no particular reason other than enjoyment like Procrastinating, Leaning on Gates, Whistling, Looking at Maps, Doodling and so much more. Just flipping through its pages instantly relaxes me.

One of my favorite passages is the one on “Throwing a Caper”:

Just out of pure joy of being in the world, sometimes you want to leap into the air and click you feet together like the tumblers, troubadours and jongleurs of old. Throwing a caper is a pointless act and should be indulged for that reason.”

I also love the one entitled “Building a House of Cards”:

Wholly without use, the house of cards is fragile, difficult and supremely satisfying. It is like building your own little cathedral on the kitchen table. And a mere breath or the lightest brush of the sleeve can bring the whole lot crashing down, reminding us of the temporary nature of man’s earthly creations and the vanity of human wishes.”

If I wasn’t so busy idling, I would engage my Type A personality in a worldwide campaign to have “The Book of Idle Pleasures” placed alongside the Gideon Bible in every hotel room.

Check it out from your local library. You may discover a whole new world of relaxing ways to idle away your summer.

What’s your favorite idle pastime?

Must Read: The Freedom Manifesto

March 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

My copy of Tom Hodgkinson’s The Freedom Manifesto is my Velveteen Rabbit. I’ve loved it so much it’s falling apart. This little green book is my number-one source of inspiration and calm when my Type-A anxieties threaten to overwhelm me, and I daresay it was the first kick to get me on my way to a minimalist life over three years ago.

I picked it up because I was looking for something to read on a long, work-related flight and I liked the cover. Its promised outcome, “How to rid yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression work and waste,” was something I could totally get behind since, at the time, I was suffering from all of that and then some.

And, boy, does it deliver.

One of Hodgkinson’s assertions is that our so-called lives of comfort and security (career, mortgage, shopping at chain supermarkets and the like) are actually making us slaves to government and corporate tyranny. We accrue debt by buying things to make our lives better. Then we must work harder to keep up the payments. It’s this endless cycle of debt and fear that keeps us from living the full and creative lives for which we are destined.

He extols the virtues of producing more than we consume in order to rid ourselves of contemporary anxieties. “Anxiety is the sacrifice of creativity in the service of security,” he writes.

That pretty much sums it up for me.

What’s unique about his outlook, and what makes it different from other self-help books, is that it’s informed by his utopian idea of what manor life was like in the Middle Ages before the Reformation. (He really likes to take it to the Tudors, whom he blames for coming up with the idea of mortgages.) Our modern, post industrial-revolution history books typically paint a portrait of a disease-ridden, chaotic, painful Middle Ages riddled with uncertainty and fear.

Not so, according to Hodgkinson, who peppers his chapters with examples of full-on merriment from those seemingly troubled times. Who wouldn’t embrace twelve days off for Christmas, three-week festivals where townsfolk do nothing but throw oranges at each other and rents that equate to one day of work per week for an entire year? That’s how those peasants lived, according to Tom Hodgkinson, and he doesn’t see why we can’t demand the same.

Chapters like “Reject Career and All Its Empty Promises,” “Say No to Guilt and Free Your Spirit,” “Live Free of the Supermarkets,” “Reject Waste; Embrace Thrift,” and “Stop Working, Start Living,” offer incredible insights into our complicity with the current system – and effortless ways to free yourself from the “mind forg’d manacles” of modern life.

He’s controversial throughout, but I’m especially intrigued when Hodgkinson calls out historical figures for their contribution to our current enslavement to work and ladder-climbing. Have you ever, in an American school, heard Benjamin Franklin referred to as a “dastardly toiler and moralist,” for coining the phrase “Time is money”? Me neither! He blames this thinking for our modern-day tethering to Blackberries, email, dishwashers and every other so-called time saving technology that actually destroys our independence.

Think about that one for a while. Then, get back to work. You’re not being paid to read my blog all day, are you?

Have you read Tom Hodgkinson’s The Freedom Manifesto? If so, what did you think? What in your current work/debt cycle do you have the power to change, or do you feel powerless?

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