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The Importance of Being Lazy by Al Gini; Routledge; 162 pages


Clark Griswold, the fall guy played to perfection by Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” knows that family trips don’t always turn out the way you hope. As fans of the 1983 movie remember, Clark found only mishap and mayhem on his way to the Wally World amusement park. But at least the Griswolds got away for a vacation. These days, most Americans can’t even do that much. Our national inability to relax is the subject of Al Gini’s newest book. A philosophy professor at Loyola University Chicago, Gini garnered good reviews three years ago for My Job, My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual. Following a popular publishing gambit (a la Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die and How We Live), Gini now looks at the flip side with The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure, and Vacations. Though it’s flawed by poor writing, inaccuracies, and self-plagiarism from his earlier work, the book makes a solid case for the necessity of downtime in American lives. The bulk of Lazy considers how we take the work-hard/play-hard ethic too seriously. According to a Cornell University study cited by Gini, “On average, Americans work 350 hours more per year than Europeans � and 70 hours more a year than even the Japanese.” At this rate, he predicts, “the average workweek could exceed 58 hours” in 2010. But we can’t just blame the problem on our jobs, Gini says. Even when we do find some free time � in the evening, on vacations, or in retirement � “we just don’t do no-thing well!” (Italics are the author’s.) Whether shopping for recreation or compulsively following sports, Americans are a nation of workaholics who stuff every spare moment with activities. An Addiction Like Any Other While there’s nothing wrong with being busy every now and then, workaholism can function like a real addiction, preventing us from engaging in the personal introspection and social interactions vital to a well-balanced life. As Gini writes, “All of us need escape, if only for a while, to retain our perspective on who we are and who we don’t want to be.” A self-admitted workaholic, Gini knows how hard it can be to slow down. He recommends a series of baby steps. Gini uses the concept of the Sabbath, divorcing it from its religious roots and distilling it down to its basic day-of-rest essence. As with a religious Sabbath, rituals provide discipline. He emphasizes two regular activities that ought to be restful, and yet for many are not: sleeping and eating. Taking the time for a full night’s sleep, and sharing a good meal with friends and family, can be the start of a more relaxed and balanced life. Though Gini’s analysis often seems obvious � we work too much and we need to relax more � it still rings true. Unfortunately the author seems to have followed his own advice too much in writing his book. His prose is a shade too casual � he employs exclamation points as frequently as if he were e-mailing a buddy. Plus, the wording and sourcing of several quotations are wrong. For example, Johnny Paycheck, not Merle Haggard, “bellowed the lyrics ‘Take this job and shove it!’ ” And did so sans exclamation point. More disturbingly, passages from Gini’s previous book appear almost verbatim in his latest. In The Importance of Being Lazy, the author writes, “As a society, we are obsessed with time. We have always been so; it’s part of our national character.” From My Job, My Self: “As a society we are obsessed with time. It is a long-standing part of our national character.” Hitting The Off Button Still, Gini’s frankness about his personal faults helps redeem the book. He charts his evolution as a workaholic, from grammar school overachievements through the publish-or-perish years as an untenured professor. As for today? “I remain a workaholic primarily out of habit,” he confesses. But by the end, even Gini manages to hit the off button. “So, I’m actually going to practice what I preach. I’m going to have something to eat, take a nap, tell my wife and children that I love them, and then we’re going on vacation.” If a compulsive worker like Gini can slow down, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.
Heather Smith is an assistant editor at Corporate Counsel.

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