Summary and book reviews of The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl

The Art of the Wasted Day

by Patricia Hampl

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl X
The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl
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  • Published:
    Apr 2018, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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About this Book

Book Summary

A spirited inquiry into the lost value of leisure and daydream.

The Art of the Wasted Day is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of "retirement" in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne--the hero of this book--who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.

Hampl's own life winds through these pilgrimages, from childhood days lazing under a neighbor's beechnut tree, to a fascination with monastic life, and then to love--and the loss of that love which forms this book's silver thread of inquiry. Finally, a remembered journey down the Mississippi near home in an old cabin cruiser with her husband turns out, after all her international quests, to be the great adventure of her life.

The real job of being human, Hampl finds, is getting lost in thought, something only leisure can provide. The Art of the Wasted Day is a compelling celebration of the purpose and appeal of letting go.

Excerpt
The Art of the Wasted Day


And what is that—"my life"? Fifty years—more—and "the life of the mind," lolling under the beechnut, has long since morphed into a scrum of tasks jittering down the day.

Life conceived—and lived—as a to-do list. This is the problem. I sense I'm not alone. Fretful, earnest, ambitious strivers—we take no comfort in existence unfurling easefully as God intended (my mother speaking, a middling midwesterner who knew how to let things unfold without rush, her head wreathed with vagueness, the smoke of her cig circling upward).

For the worker bee, life is given over to the grim satisfaction of striking a firm line through a task accomplished. On to the next, and the next. Check, check. Done and done. It explains—and solves—nothing to call this workaholism.

Whatever happened to that Roman concept, first encountered in Intermediate Latin—otium cum dignitate, honorable leisure? The peace that passeth ...

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Reviews

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Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time alone in the midst of what you love...In this context, the wasted in The Art of the Wasted Day is hard to accept. Instead, the title of these essays-as-memoir should use the word leisurely. Of course, Hempl is trying to make a point here – that a great swath of society, American society, might think such things as daydreaming to be frivolity, to be a - yes - waste of a day. But Hampl's goal is to prove that it's not. She mostly succeeds.   (Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A wonderfully lavish and leisurely exploration of the art of daydreaming ... [a] remarkable and touching book.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Lucent, tender, and wise ... a captivating and revelatory memoir.

Author Blurb Phillip Lopate
Vivid, passionate, bursting with ideas and insights, Patricia Hampl's new book is a summation of a lifetime of sensitive searching and thinking. A love story, a meditation on death, travel, Americanness, Catholicism, integrity and Montaigne, this beautiful journey is finally about the education of a soul.

Author Blurb Alice Kaplan
What ties together this beautiful book are the imaginary conversations born of Hampl's mourning for her life companion. An elegy, a reader's pilgrimage, a reflection on the writing life, full of humor, surprises, and wisdom gently given, The Art of the Wasted Day is a book for the ages.

Author Blurb Margo Jefferson
The art of Patricia Hampl is the art of a lyrical, contemplative self, a self as instrument attuned to the world's vibrations. Through reflection and investigation, vignette and daydream, she roams centuries and continents in this book.

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Beyond the Book

The Art of the Flaneur

The word flaneur sounds like a term for a connoisseur of flannel fabric but, in fact, the Oxford dictionary defines flaneur as "A man who saunters around observing society." It is derived from the French word flâner which means "saunter, lounge."

According to an article in the New Republic, Charles Baudelaire gave birth to the term in an essay called "The Painter of Modern Life", describing a person who is a "passionate spectator," open to and interested in all that's around him. Not a real person, at that point, as it came from Baudelaire's imagination. But the flaneur has become real enough through many subsequent people, real and fictional alike.

Virginia Woolf took a walk in Tavistock Square, London that inspired To...

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