Don’t let the provocative title of Eva Hoffman’s How to Be Bored fool you. Hoffman’s book is not a how-to for being bored, but rather a how-to of how to be when one finds oneself being bored. Or, more precisely, a manifesto in favor of “boredom” as opposed to its opposite state – hyperactivity – in order to achieve a truly self-reflective state. Rather than how to be active and productive, Hoffman explicates the importance of being in nothingness, or, as a Buddhist (or George Harrison) might say, how to “be here now.”
Part of the “School of Life” series curated by Alain de Botton and published by Picador (in 2016), Hoffman’s is a wide-ranging exploration of the philosophy and theory of self, without being overly philosophical or theoretical. For sure, she talks extensively about Freud, Camus, Sartre, and Virginia Woolf, in the way of any smart cultural critic or essayist. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hoffman is an old-style public intellectual, whose wide range of work includes novels, memoir, history, and essays. She is not fond of what digital devices and online content have done to our minds and to our attention spans, a complaint which in the wrong hands or at the wrong time can seem churlish, but which is the perfect prescription right now, when the very foundation of our lives and the way we live them is being challenged.
“After a while, incessant activity can leave us feeling depleted and oddly undernourished, as if the experiences we have been through have not taken root, or become part of ourselves,” writes Hoffman. If that statement resonates with you at all, this book is for you.