Book Review: How To Be Free & How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
You know how some kids have a special book they read over and over, or have a story they want to be told again and again? They never tire of the story even though they could probably recite the whole book word for word. There must be something within that narration that triggers some feeling of perhaps comfort, excitement, hope or wonder.
Well, these two books by Tom Hodgkinson are my equivalent of a kid’s comforting but thrilling fairy tale. I have read them several times; sometimes from cover to cover, sometimes just a snifter of a chapter or two. But these books are no fairy story, rather they dispel the myths, the fairy stories, that we have been told by society, government, employers and religions that guilt us into laborious work that we don’t enjoy, that prod us into feelings of self loathing and scare us into eagerly handing over our independence and freedom with empty promises of protection.
Both books give interesting, informative and sometimes humorous reference to historic and modern art, literature, music, philosophy, culture, religion, politics and society to help us grasp the flaws of our modern western culture; of overworking and being unfulfilled in our consumer-driven society that neglects our human spirit, our health, our communities and our families.
‘How to be Idle’ incites us to reclaim our time for pleasure, merriment, repose in the form of – amongst other things – sleeping, conversation, leisurely walks, informal meditation, and sex. It is pretty frightening that many people really don’t know how to take it easy. Many have never allowed themselves a dreamy morning in bed thinking, or reading, or dozing. Many are not able to take a leisurely lunch but ‘must’ – for internally and externally controlled reasons – thoughtlessly wolf down a sandwich at their desk. Simple, often free, pleasures that we deny ourselves through our mental prisons and our dysfunctional society.
But being idle does not mean being lazy, for to be free one does need to expend some energy to perhaps carry out some freelance work, to grown your own vegetables or generally become more self-sufficient to enable your freedom. The difference is that you have more choice as to how to use your time; it can also mean that you have time to be idle after the necessary daily tasks have been performed, or that you can choose to leisurely carry out the tasks to make them more enjoyable. These books give you some practical tips and inspiration on how to do do this.
In ‘How to be Free’ Hodgkinson reminds us that our forefathers and foremothers usually enjoyed more freedom than we do today, often by selling their crafts and growing their own food, and occasionally accepting sporadic work to pay their minimal rent instead of unquestioningly handing over their lives to employers, and their hard-earned money to supermarkets and other companies that generally peddle crap we don’t need.
So why do I treasure these books? Why do they almost have a permanent place on my bedside table, or desk or sofa arm? First, they reminded me that so much of what we think is just indoctrination courtesy of the protestants, for example. The work ethic that makes us think that unless we are slogging over work we despise we are ‘bad’ or worthless. That laying in bed is a waste of time, rather than an opportunity for your body to rest and your mind to wander, and come up with creative ideas and solutions.
Hodgkinson encourages me to work towards a life of freedom, pleasure and leisure rather than resentfully living a life that suits the people that profit from it. And though I am fortunate in that I have contact with inspiring people on the same path to this freedom (some are even already there), I don’t have many in my physical day-to-day life. These books act as a reassuring hug, a stroke on the cheek, saying ‘you can do this, life doesn’t have to be this way’. In fact I may just blow off work for the rest of the day, settle into the sofa with a jug of hot chocolate and read one of these books while snuggling the other.