How to Live on 24 Hours a Day


Arnold Bennett, British Novelist

While reading the remarkable series on changes in publishing by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I came across her mention of Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999 by Michael Korda. This book deserves a whole post, but for now I’ll let the title speak for it.

This post is about one–just one of what I suspect will be many–gem that I discovered through this book of lists. In 1912, the eighth nonfiction bestseller had a fantastic title: How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. He was one of many bestselling fiction writers that the book spotlights, though like Fannie Hurst has since fallen into relative obscurity. In addition to fiction, he made a splash with some of the first self help books. This one has just 69 short pages, and is well worth the time.

And according to the book, that is indeed saying something:

Yet it has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money — usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.

Who knew cloak-room attendants were so well paid in 1912? Bennett may be out of time, he died in 1931, but he seems to have made good use of the years he was allotted, at least judging by his prodigious output. One of the things this little book drives home is that we’re far from the first generation to feel that life moves a bit too fast, or that things don’t make quite the same sense they did before. This guy had the industrial revolution, then a world war, then a big old depression to contend with during his lifetime. If he had been granted more time, he would have seen… well, another world war.

Our lives are insanely simple compared to all that, and yes 24 hours a day is plenty. I loved this passage:

The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. A highly secular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.

Talk about an ideal democracy! In the realm of time there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour a day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. No mysterious power will say: — “This man is a fool, if not a knave. He does not deserve time; he shall be cut off at the meter.” It is more certain than consols, and payment of income is not affected by Sundays. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste to-morrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.

The book is now public domain and can be found for free on Google eBookstore and for the Amazon Kindle.

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