Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time by Sheila Liming

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Review by Annabel

The New Year always brings with it a slew of self-help books about becoming the better/fitter/healthier/wealthier you. I look at these books and think – really? Why now?

Thankfully, Sheila Liming’s timely book is not the kind of self-help tool that demands those kinds of actions.

Instead, it’s a manifesto for the pleasures of just hanging out. Over the last decades, we’ve become addicted to staying connected, and we’ve lost the art of killing time by hanging out: not necessarily doing anything, but interfacing in real life with people. The pandemic didn’t help, did it?

Liming is a literature, media and writing professor at Champlain College in Vermont. Her previous books tell the story of Edith Wharton’s library, its reassembling and cataloguing, and dissection of what libraries mean to women, and for the Bloomsbury ‘Object Lessons‘ series, a book on the Office, which was written pre-pandemic – it would have been interesting to see what she makes of the rise of working from home.

In her new book, she examines many different ways of hanging out. Liming uses personal anecdotes and scenes from college life to illustrate them and peppers the text with quotes and discussion of literary works of both fiction and non-fiction that back up her own stories and ‘create a conversation’ around the subject as she states in the introduction.

Moving on, she begins with looking at parties, which concentrates on student parties and how you get invited, or can just turn up, and more adult event type dos, like Mardi-Gras. The second chapter, ‘Hanging Out With Strangers’ was interesting, and in these days where some perceive every stranger as a danger, she tells a story about staying in a friend’s flat in Scotland and meeting four blokes down the pub who, for a day or so became her best friends by virtue of hanging out, proof that random strangers aren’t always axe-murderers. Being in Scotland, she uses the relationships between Renton and Begbie in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting in contrast – Begbie is known to beat up strangers. She also mentions Begbie’s father’s reference to the hobby of trainspotting – a particularly idiosyncratic way of hanging out if ever there was one!

We move on to a musical way of hanging out – jamming – as opposed to the riffing of improvisation, which requires years of skill and practice to carry off effectively. Jamming is more of the having fun playing tunes that everyone knows together kind of activity. She recounts her time playing in bands:

Like almost everyone I knew back then, I spent my twenties playing music in bands. In Pittsburgh, I played in two. One of them was good. The other was popular.

The good one worked hard at being good. […]

The other band was a different beast, made up of young amateurs who were more interested in the work of figuring out how to creatively exist together, I think, than in perfecting and exhibiting their skills as musicians. I was the only one who could read music.

The other chapter that particularly grabbed me was ‘Hanging Out on the Job’, which begins by looking at conferences and staying in hotels – and she comes to the conclusion that you’re never really hanging out on these occasions, you’re still on the job one way or another – the forced friendships between colleagues who don’t normally get together, the tendency to drink too much, and the awareness of the conference predators who will go home to their wives and kids.

Other chapters discuss hanging out on TV (in the studio as an extra), at dinner parties, and whether you can really hang out on the internet, before arriving at her conclusions on ‘How to Hang Out’ and a five point plan, which includes taking risks (calculated where necessary), taking care (as opposed to self-care), and taking heart as a means for survival.

I loved all the literary references, from renowned US food-writer MFK Fisher (whose only novel we reviewed here) to Edith Wharton naturally, through the aforementioned Irvine Welsh and many more. It will likely appeal to those who enjoy Olivia Laing’s books which we’ve reviewed several of at Shiny – see here). Reading this book was not what I expected at all. I really enjoyed it, and got plenty of food for thought from the lively text, and Liming sounds a fun person to hang out with!

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Annabel is one of the founders of Shiny, and one of its editors, and does hang out too much on the internet.

Sheila Liming, Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time (Melville House, 2023). 978-1685890056, 224pp., hardback.

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1 comment

  1. Enjoyed this one very much myself – my turn on the blog tour tomorrow! 😀

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