No one knows how to kill time better than a writer, and Patricia Hampl is of the better time-murderers in the business. Over at NPR, Maureen Corrigan calls Hampl’s new book, The Art of the Wasted Day, “a swirl of memoir, travelogue, and biography of some of history’s champion daydreamers,” one that makes the case “for the profound value of letting the mind wander.”
Intuitively, we know what she means. Our best thinking and doing come not in the middle of labor but in the bathtub after failure. (Eureka!) But the Protestant work ethic (and all of its attendant anxieties) maintains its hold on the people of this country, dooming us forever to the backward belief that rest will only come with death.
Hampl's book hopes to resist that narrative a bit. To begin, she sets up an ostensible path she wants us to follow. She's en route to visit the writing tower of Michel de Montaigne's, the 16th-century French writer credited with inventing the personal essay. Along the way, Hampl allows her pen to stray, recalling facts and vignettes that celebrate the heroes of leisure. In addition to being a fascinating read full of stories you'll want to tell the next time you're heroically lounging with a beer in hand, this memoir's a not-so-secret recherche du temps perdu. Hampl is remembering her late husband while trying not to remember her late husband in these pages, threading her humorous and thoughtful treatise with a thin wire of grief.
Hear Hampl read tonight at Elliott Bay Books at 7 p.m.