The Art of the Wasted Day

Publisher Viking/Penguin Random House, April 3, 2018

A spirited inquiry into the lost value of daydream and ease, and the primacy of the imagination.
Modern life only seems to become increasingly hectic and stressful, as we try to cram more into each day. In her sparkling new book, acclaimed author Patricia Hampl argues for the necessity of daydreaming and leisure in our over-amped lives.

Written out of a lifelong fascination with contemplation, solitude, and silence, The Art of the Wasted Day is a picaresque travelogue of leisure. Hampl visits the homes of several exemplars of leisure from the past, who made repose and seclusion their goal, indeed their art form. She journeys to rural Wales to explore two eighteenth-century aristocratic Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of retirement, becoming celebrated for their gardens and their determined isolation, and then on to Bordeaux to the chateau of Montaigne – the hero of the book – who retreated to his ancestral home, simply to sit in his tower and write what was passing through his mind. Hampl braids her own life stories into these pilgrimages: lazing her days away as a young girl, daydreaming under a beechnut tree; undertaking a retreat at a Benedictine monastery; floating down the Mississippi River in an old cabin cruiser boat, a “sheer, dreamy waste of time” that turns out, after all of her international questing, to be the greatest travel experience of her life.

The job of being human, Hampl suggests, is getting lost in thought, and only leisure can safeguard reflection. The Art of the Wasted Day is a timely, compelling, beautifully written celebration of the purpose and appeal of letting go.

“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.”  –Phillip Lopate

“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, searching for what she calls ‘the combustible energy of the soul.’” –Margo Jefferson

“This book, tender, curious and crazily wise, brings to mind Michel de Montaigne’s saying that ‘A spirited mind never stops within itself; it is always aspiring and going beyond its strength.’” – Azar Nafisi

“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.”  – Alice Kaplan

The Art of the Wasted Day