It takes little labour to love this book.
Mark Kingwell’s substantial, splendidly informative introductory essay tells us much about the multifarious benefits that accrue to those who idle; it alone makes The Idler’s Glossary worth reading.
No respite, we are told, can be had from boredom merely by exciting new desires to replace absent ones. The solution, quite simply, lies in idling, which, contrary to what you may think, has little to do with the avoidance of work — for the idler isn’t lazy — and lots to do with the construction of a value system entirely independent of work. For The Idler is no slave to the clock. In truth, he holds lucre in complete contempt.
It is in following the solitary path of inward contemplation that this enlightened loner, we are told, cultivates the most divine part of human life, and in so doing, comes closest to the gods. Do or do not. There is no ‘try’ with this effete elite. The strength of the water that finds its way past any obstacle is his most profound truth.
And in informing us of this and other profundities, The Idler’s Glossary stays true to its roots; for there is, Kingwell tells us "no more idle text than this with its refusal to offer complete sentences, its principled Flaneur‘s resistance to linear or extended thought, its marvelous Borgesian textual circuity — where terms seem forever bending back upon other terms resisting mastery and completion."
Though you may not master the Idler’s art in one reading, completing this book requires little effort. Along the way you’ll find plenty to delight in and ponder over, plus, possibly, if you don’t work too hard at it, a profound truth or two.
Here are several favourites from Joshua Glenn’s Glossary:
IDLING: is not the opposite of working hard, but is instead a rare, hard-won mode in which your art is your work, and your work is your art.
QUATORZIEME: A professional 14th guest, who can be hired on short notice by a superstitious hostess who discovers that her dinner party numbers 13.
TRUANT: R.L. Stevenson writes that "while others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men."
USELESS: Lin Yutang’s maxim that "a perfectly useless afternoon spent in a perfectly useless manner" is what makes life worth living.