As a change from the kind of thing you usually see on the Ramblings at the end of month, for my final January post I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog tour! You might consider this an advance guard for #ReadIndies month, as the book is issued by Melville House Press, a publisher I’ve covered before on the Ramblings; and the book is fascinating work called “Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time” by Sheila Liming.

Liming is an associate professor at Champlain College, Burlington, Vermont and author of two previous books: “What a Library Means to a Woman” and “Office”. A regular essayist for publications like ‘The Atlantic’ and ‘The Los Angeles Review of Books’, she has an intriguing history which is revealed throughout the pages of her new book.

“Hanging Out” is a fascinating work which explores the frantic state in which we find ourselves in the modern world. Glued to screens and schedules, having much of our contact remotely, we seem to have lost the simple art of hanging out, being together with other people in unstructured social situations where we can simply chat, interact and make those essential human connections. Truly, the world had been headed away from that kind of socialisation for ages, since the digital started to take over; but the COVID-19 pandemic cemented our dependance on remote contact and has pretty much destroyed our opportunities for casual meetings.

Liming subdivides her book into chapters focusing on different methods of hanging out; from dinner parties to full-on parties, fraternizing on the job or on TV, these are all activities people undertake on a regular basis, but this kind of contact is becoming harder and harder. Each section is laced with personal experience of hanging out; from academic conferences to jamming in a band, Liming has had a varied life moving through bartending, being a musician, moving into academia and writing. This history informs her thoughts on the value of these human connections and the benefits they bring us; whether recalling drunken nights when living alone in Aberdeen, feeling out of the loop in North Dakota, or misreading the signals at a conference, she’s never dull! She communicates her ideas well, and much of this is because she uses those events from her own life to illustrate her points, as well as revealing her left-leaning views (with which I found myself in much sympathy!)

Fun, after all, is supposed to be an anathema to work, which is why the prospect of fun gets treated like a contagion. Fun threatens to infect and pervert the sanctity of labor and also the power of those who would have us do more of it, for free, by cramming more into the slim, pre-existing spaces of paychecks and contracts.

“Hanging Out” states its case as a radical text from the outset via its subtitle, and in fact her view *is* quite a militant one. Her narrative is underpinned with a belief in the value of our free time, and she’s very critical of the forces of control which expect us to be on call at every hour of the day. The lines between work and free time became ever more blurred during the various lockdowns, and if nothing else the book is a clarion call to reset those boundaries and make sure that we log out of work mode when our working day ends. Liming is well aware that we are constantly being suckered into spending more time on our jobs for no more reward, afraid of not being seen to be actively doing something at all times, and all that stolen time could be literally spent doing nothing but hanging somewhere and resetting our systems – truly, we really do need to re-learn the value of inactivity!!

Liming is an erudite commentator, drawing in all manner of sources and references from Adorno to Benjamin, and as well as reminding us of our right to time away from the pressures of work, she’s also a passionate advocate of taking time out of the digital. Putting down your phone, pulling up a chair and just having a real life conversation is good for us, although as she makes clear, many of the urban spaces where we used to be able to hang out aren’t there any more – her discussion of the lack of ‘Third Places’ (social surroundings distinct from work and home) was particularly interesting. The pandemic has also taken away many opportunities but it’s clear from the benefits that it really is worth making the effort to spend time doing nothing…

“Hanging Out” was a book which really resonated with me; I come from a time pre-technology when hanging around with your friends, chatting, laughing and exchanging ideas was culturally fascinating as well as fun. Casual encounters, following serendipitous trains of thought and conversations, and random discoveries gave life a flavour; and I met some of my dearest friends simply from being in a particular place at a particular time, just hanging around at an event, and going on to discover we had much in common. In fact, when I get back to taking my trips to London again, to meet up with my old pal J., we will bimble round in a flaneuse-y kind of way and just enjoy being together and hunting out art and books! We need to get back to these old habits if we can, and Sheila Liming’s book is a brilliant reminder of the value of hanging out!