Book Review

by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's a script that's followed in every generation: The father, who once dreamed of doing nothing, passes harsh judgment on the son, as he does nothing. Tom Lutz conceived of this compelling but flawed book as he felt himself doing what he always told himself he wouldn't do: repeat the tradition. "I was shocked," Lutz writes of his son Cody's supposed job hunt, "to learn that the sight of my son lying on the couch day after day made me furious."

We call them slackers today, but there's nothing new about them. The Greek aristocrats were famously lazy, as were stalwarts of American history like Thoreau and Whitman. And as Lutz outlines, our current president is a quintessential slacker. ("I think if you look at my full life," George W. Bush once told a reporter, "I haven't had a game plan.")

Most Ferris Bueller wannabes probably don't realize it, but there's a proud, principled tradition at the core of slackerdom: Are we defined by how hard we work or by how well we avoid working? It's a question that involves age-old theories of labor vs. capital, of philosophy, even of religion. And it's been taken up by the likes of de Tocqueville, Ben Franklin and Jesus (in his "Lilies of the Field" sermon). Rather than some kind of scourge on decent society, Lutz argues that laziness may be a basic human right.

Doing Nothing is at its best when it probes these depths, but Lutz seems too entranced with rattling off every bit of pop cultural flotsam that even obliquely references laziness. It often reads like a laundry list (and proves that Google is a slacker-writer's best friend). And as Lutz shows, many of the authors of these books and films are actually workaholics, which means the fictional slackers may not quite be true-to-life. Lutz would have done well to leave his desk to talk to some real, live lazy butts.

His book works better when he matches the actual biography to the slacker-writer's work, especially Kerouac and Melville -- both of whom had judgmental fathers they ran away from. They also both capitalized on their carefree adventures to capture the imagination of the multitudes stuck in the world of work.

Considering the subject matter, this is a strangely dull book. If you want exhaustive proof of the slacker phenomenon, Doing Nothing is a worthy couch companion. But if you want to live vicariously after a long day at work, read On the Road or rent Slackers.