Dwight Garner: “Celebrating Literature’s Slackers as Superheroes.”

From a Critic’s Notebook piece in the New York Times by Dwight Garner headlined “Celebrating Literature’s Slacker Heroes, Idlers and Liers-In”:

Not everyone is having a bad lockdown. In The Spectator, the English weekly, Tom Stoppard wrote, “This is the life I’ve always wanted — social distancing without social disapproval.” Me? I’ve grown twitchy. The song I can’t stop listening to is Cab Calloway’s “I Gotta Go Places and Do Things.”

With so many hours to obliterate, I’ve found myself turning to the experts. I’ve pushed away the Tootsie Roll wrappers and empty root beer cans and gathered around my bed what I will call my library of indolence. . . .

By “library of indolence” I mean novels like “Oblomov,” Ivan Goncharov’s satire about a man who hates to leave his bed, and “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville’s long short story about the clerk whose motto is “I would prefer not to.”

I mean essays like G. K. Chesterton’s “On Lying in Bed,” Robert Morley’s “In Praise of Obesity,” Adam Phillips’s “On Being Bored” and Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness.” With a nap between each, these essays will fill a whole day.

I also mean nonfiction books like Eva Hoffman’s “How to Be Bored,” Jenny Odell’s “How to Do Nothing” and Patricia Hampl’s “The Art of the Wasted Day.” Then there is Keith Waterhouse’s slim primer “The Theory and Practice of Lunch.” Waterhouse writes, “Lunch is free will.”

No one seems to remember her any longer, but I’m a terrific fan of the writer Barbara Holland, who died in 2010. Her best-known book is “The Joy of Drinking.” But don’t forget her “Endangered Pleasures.” The subtitle says it all: “In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences.”

Like Protestants, these books come in many denominations. The wittiest and most profound, the one that covers the most bases, is Tom Hodgkinson’s 2005 classic “How to Be Idle.” I can’t recommend it highly enough. . . .

He pays tribute to slacker heroes such as John Lennon, who wrote “Watching the Wheels” and “I’m So Tired,” and Sherlock Holmes, who solved cases while sitting around in his smoking jacket, sucking on a pipe.

He works up a head of steam about why tea, the leaf, is more noble than coffee, the bean. “Coffee is for winners, go-getters, tea-ignorers, lunch-cancelers, early-risers, guilt-ridden strivers, money obsessives and status-driven spiritually empty lunatics,” he writes. . . .

I admire Sheila Heti’s novel “How Should a Person Be?,” in which she writes: “Let other people frequent the nightclubs in their tight-ass skirts and Live. I’m just sitting here, vibrating in my apartment, at having been given this one chance to live.”. . .

And as Anita Brookner wrote, “Time misspent in youth is sometimes all the freedom one ever has.”

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