18 Apr 2014

Book Review: Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

My first acquaintance with the works of Jerome Klapka Jerome (I always loved the 'Klapka' part, it just sounds so ridiculous) happened in my early teens, with his famous Three Men in a Boat. Later on, I watched the soviet film adaptation of the book (1979, starring super-talented Andrej Mironov), which became one of my most favourite soviet movies. Because let's face it: Three Men in a Boat is the wittiest, funniest, silliest, most hilarious thing ever written about the idlest, laziest young imbeciles (and the world has those in abundance) who struggle to find a cause to employ their torrential energy at.

Three Men was written in 1889. Three years earlier, however, Jerome Jerome prepared the ground for the novel with his collection of essays Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, which is, as believed by many, a continuation of Lazy Thought of a Lazy Girl published anonymously be Jerome, who hid behind a female pseudonym of Jenny Wren.

Jerome Jerome dedicated this collection of observations to his most faithful friend and dearest companion in idleness: his pipe. Smoking it slowly and leisurely, this was, I believe, how he created his essays in which he raised a question of what it really means to be an idle fellow. 'A genuine idler is a rarity', Jerome points out, 'He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.' But, what does it really mean to be an idle fellow after all? Well, from what I learned out of JKJ's essays, being an idle fellow is almost the same as having ADHD. You try to focus on one thing, but eventually get carried away with the sudden torrent of other ideas with their powerful waves that are impossible to withstand. Jerome Jerome, a skillful idler himself, admitted that at times he felt like his own mind was giving way under this mental downpour. The only way to win the battle, however, is to surrender. Surrender, let your thoughts flutter like butterflies, and you will be rewarded with an ability to make some of the deepest observations on life that in normal, i.e. oppressed, state of being simply cannot be fit into your busy time-schedule. You learn a lot about the world once you let your mind dwell freely upon random things. You learn, for instance, that cats are smarter than dogs. Or that everybody is vain -- especially your pious auntie, and especially cats. You learn that people are better creatures when they are fed, and that melancholy, in small doses, is the most pleasurable thing on earth.

This is not shallow. This is life.

At first glance (and at second, too), Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, albeit full of Jerome's cleverest remarks on human nature, lacks common structure: there are no resolutions to the initially proposed issues of discussion; there is too much chaos and too much deviation. But it is exactly these deviations that make the essays such a pleasurable, and edifying, read.

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