In praise of idleness (and fun)

21 December 2012 | Letter from the Editors

As the days grow shorter, here in the far north, and we celebrate the midwinter solstice, Christmas and the New Year, everything begins to wind down. Even here in Helsinki, the sun barely seems to struggle over the horizon; and the raw cold of the viima wind from the Baltic makes our thoughts turn inward, to cosy evenings at home, engaging in the traditional activities of baking, making handicrafts, reading, lying on the sofa and eating to excess.

It is a time to turn to the inner self, to feed the imagination, to turn one’s back on the world of effort and achievement. To light a candle and perhaps do absolutely nothing – which can in itself be a form of meditation.

That’s what we at Books from Finland will be trying to do, anyway. Support in our endeavour comes from an unlikely quarter. In 1932 the British philosopher Bertrand Russell published an essay entitled ‘In Praise of Idleness’, in which he argued cogently for a four-hour working day. ‘I think that there is far too much work done in the world,’ he wrote; ‘that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous’.

Russell was no slouch, as his list of publications alone shows. But his argument was a serious one, and we mean to put it into practice, at least over the twelve days of Christmas. ‘The road to happiness and prosperity,’ he wrote, ‘lies in an organised diminution of work.’

Fun and games: nobody knows what Koi-Koi is, but he’s always ready for play! Christel Rönn’s book Det vidunderliga ägg (‘The extraordinary egg’) won the Finlandia Junior Prize 2102

Less work, more play, and no time better to put it into practice than at Christmas in Finland when, happily, one is even free of the obligation to go out and have fun. Let’s feed the inner us instead.

So what will we be offering to feed the imagination over the festive season? What will be our literary equivalents of the baked ham, the carrot and swede and potato casseroles, the pickled herring, the baked goodies of all sorts, the rice pudding, the clandestine, midnight visits to the fridge?

The ‘official’ pick of the 2012 literary harvest has just been selected in the form of the winners of the Finlandia Literature prizes. We’ve recently been featuring some of our favourites on our pages – such as the delicious, classic child story by Teuvo Pakkala, ‘Mahtisana’ (‘The mighty word’), or the story of the house that the artist built in the shape of a leaf. Or Juha Seppälä’s latest novel, Mr. Smith, laced with full-bodied satire, about the power of money. Now could be a good time to catch up…

Then, soon after New Year (but still within the twelve days of Christmas!), we’ll publish our traditional annual goodie-bag of children’s books. An old Christmas song claims that ‘vanhakin nyt nuortuu / kuin lapsi leikkimään…’ (‘even the old grow young / and play like children’): we’ll definitely be reading children’s books over the break – simply because the best ones are such fun, and remind us of the importance of play.

What IS it? A family finds a fast-growing pet in Det vidunderliga ägget (‘The extraordinary egg’) by Christel Rönns

See, for example, these pictures about a very strange but good-natured creature named Koi-koi: adopted by a family, it just keeps eating and growing, and even though cabbage and onions are omitted from its diet, Koi-Koi’s farts send the family running – laughing at this is not the privilege of kids under twelve only.

‘Play is not just joyful and energising – it’s deeply involved with human development and intelligence’; take a look at a fascinating speech entitled ‘Play is more than fun’ by Dr Stuart Brown, who holds the delicious title of researcher of play (tough job, but someone’s got to do it!) at the National Institute for Play.

So perhaps we might simply try reading what we think is plain, unadulterated fun over the holidays – whatever that means, to each and every one?

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