[Arnold] Bennett suggests [in How to Live on 24 Hours a Day] that his typical man see his sixteen free hours as a “day within a day,” explaining, “during those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a private income.” Accordingly, the typical man should instead use this time as an aristocrat1 would: to perform rigorous self-improvement — a task that, according to Bennett, involves, primarily, reading great literature and poetry.
Bennett wrote about these issues more than a century ago. You might expect that in the intervening decades, a period in which this middle class exploded in size worldwide, our thinking about leisure time would have evolved. But it has not. If anything, with the rise of the Internet and the low-brow attention economy it supports, the average forty-hour-a-week employee — especially those in my tech-savvy Millennial generation — has seen the quality of his or her leisure time remain degraded, consisting primarily of a blur of distracted clicks on least-common-denominator digital entertainment. If Bennett were brought back to life today, he’d likely fall into despair at the lack of progress in this area of human development.
To be clear, I’m indifferent to the moral underpinnings behind Bennett’s suggestions. His vision of elevating the souls and minds of the middle class by reading poetry and great books feels somewhat antiquated and classist2. But the logical foundation of his proposal, that you both should and can make deliberate use of your time outside work, remains relevant today...
1. Presumably this refers to aristocrats such as the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury or the 1st Viscount Bolingbroke and not inbred halfwits who only view the world from between a horse's ears.
2. Insert the sound of Andrew groaning and breaking wind simultaneously.