Books and the ‘Boredom Boom’

Henry Alford in The New York Times:

BoredomJP-superJumboSay you were bold enough to gather together seven of the recent or upcoming books about boredom. To stack the deck, say you were to do this gathering during a week of intense, attention-imperiling humidity — a week when, purely coincidentally, you’d just reached page 508 of “Moby-Dick,” and thus had arrived at a kind of sweet spot in your appreciation of lengthy descriptions of rope. Would you crack a single one of the boredom brigade open? Or would you soon be found desiccated and near-dead in your apartment, eyeballs dangling from their sockets? Quietly asserting itself in books and personal essays since 2015, the “boredom boom” would seem to be a reaction to the short attention spans bred by our computers and smartphones. The words “boring” and “interesting” didn’t exist in English till the 1800s, a period when…

Whoa, is that a candy-colored hula hoop on that book jacket?

I started with Mary Mann’s “Yawn: Adventures in Boredom” (164 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15) because it has a hula hoop on it, and because I am 12. This would prove to be one of the three books I would read in its entirety. Given that boredom is inextricably bound up with questions of taste, I am now compelled to specify the two commodities that I most cherish in nonfiction: 1) lots and lots of authorial voice and, 2) a modicum of surprise. You can keep your well-reasoned arguments and your ripped-from-the-headlines topicality, thank you. All I want is a distinct sense of — and an interest in — the person I’m listening to. And then I want to be slapped across the face with a haddock. Ms. Mann has both these qualities in spades. By trade a researcher (“like being a private detective, without the danger and the sex”), the delightful Ms. Mann comes off as a funny, very hip nerd. She lards her first-person exploration with facts I didn’t know: Cuban cigar factories pay people to read stories aloud to their workers, to relieve tedium. Most door-close buttons in elevators and request-to-walk buttons at crosswalks serve no purpose other than to give us something to fidget with. Thomas Cook, the father of tourism, thought travel was an antidote to alcoholism. Yes, please.

More here.

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