How to do Nothing is a manifesto on living in the present. Odell grounds the book and her message in the local biodiverse area of the San Francisco Bay giving detailed description of the plant, bird life, histories, human and community evolutions and watershed features of the area. She asks us to look at these details in our own locations by connecting their importance to our own sense of place and time in the world.
Odell outlines and argues effectively against the attention economy that many of us already castigate, pointing out that railing against the media cycle and particularly social media is less effective than simply turning one’s attention to doing something else. For Odell that has manifested in a fascination with birdwatching; for me it has been the pursuit of my doctoral degree that has seen me read a grand total of nudda books this year that have not been directly related to that pursuit.
The book is undoubtedly liberal and takes an academic approach to art with detailed descriptions of art and its place in the world along with human’s place in the biodiverse habitats. It takes a long view of the regions and the evolution of human location and a grim perspective of the process of progress and describes an art piece on progress connecting it with the destructive concept of manifest destiny.
For me it was an 8 hour long justification essay on the way I have chosen to live my life that articulates well many of my own concerns and motivations. It offers an anecdotal history reaching from Greek and Roman philosophers to the hippy commune movement of the 1960s of the ongoing attraction to untangle oneself from the ever-moving momentum of progress and work.
While it contains intricate details about a range of things, it has a clear liberal academic undertone that has the potential to bore the general reader. If you’re looking for an excuse or inspiration to turn your undivided attention to whatever it is you are passionate about this will serve as an argument for that ends.