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About the Author

Jenny Odell is an artist and writer who teaches at Stanford University. She has been an artist-in-residence at places such as the San Francisco dump, Facebook, the Internet Archive, and the San Francisco Planning Department, and has exhibited her art all over the world. She lives in Oakland, show more California. show less
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Works by Jenny Odell


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Common Knowledge



Some good stuff in this book, as I can tell by the bookflags I marked. But the author buries it in anecdotes, stories, quotes, essays, etc. Each chapter has 50-60 footnotes of references. Yikes! Odell is also clearly an educator and creative person, because her writing is not straightforward. That might work for some, I wasn't a fan.

Each chapter was loosely based around a concept, but none of the ideas presented really flowed. It felt like a collection of blog posts or articles more than a cohesive book. No clear steps to take on "how to do nothing" ... just stories about WHY you should do nothing.

I wanted to like this more, but it just wasn't for me.
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teejayhanton | 45 other reviews | Mar 22, 2024 |
Here's a loose collection of thoughts I wrote to a friend about this book:

I loved it! I could imagine it being really dissatisfying for lots of people -- it's definitely not a how to, there's no real advice in it. It's more meandering and kinda reflecting on how we spend our time and attention. I feel like you [the person] might've put me on to The Shallows by Nicolas Carr a while back, it's entirely *not* like that in approach, but has a few overlapping themes. In the intro, the author writes:

> Consider this not a closed transmission of information, but instead an open and extended essay, in the original sense of the word (a journey, an essaying forth). It's less a lecture than an invitation to take a walk.

I feel like that's basically right. The path it follows is something like (by chapter):
1. "doing nothing as countercultural practice / anti-cult-of-productivity", focussing your attention deliberately
2. a common approach is to try and exit society completely, but that's not tenable, responsible or satisfying
3. what does protest look like, then?
4. here are times when I've noticed my attention, it's caught me off guard, here's why we shouldn't allow it to be coopted
5. here's how attention interacts with other people, other life forms (picking up the theme of chapter 2 a little)
6. here are the ways in which it is very difficult to make meaningful progress as individuals and a society because of things eroding the ability to spend time exploring the nuance in ideas (picking up on chapters 3 and 5 again)
Conclusion: dismantling bad structures as a creative act (both, like, removing a badly-conceived dam to make space for nature again, and badly-conceived social structures to make room for people, and nature again, and people are actually part of nature).

So, yeah. It's _not_ focussed. It draws upon research, art, personal experience, it has parts that are beautiful nature writing, what seemed like well-researched history and sociology and storytelling.

I found it very enjoyable, and couldn't put it down, but it's not clear what it _is_, so I wouldn't recommend it to _everyone_. But I liked it so much that I bought copies for two friends, because I thought they would be the sort of people who would like it. But I don't think I have any concrete takeaways.

Some things I've read recently, which it touches upon / felt like, but isn't quite:
- Nature writing, like The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
- The Refusal of Work by David Frayne (though that's way more research-y)
- Can't Even, by Anne Helen Petersen (though that's a little more research-y)
- It intersects with a lot of Craig Mod's writing (about nature, the connection between nature and people, paying attention to small things)
- And maybe rhymes with Ursula LeGuin's essays (No time to Spare other bits and pieces)
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capnfabs | 45 other reviews | Mar 9, 2024 |
deliriumshelves | 45 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
I'm not usually big on self-help books, but this manual on "resisting the attention economy" deeply explores our ADD society and how one can live a much more satisfying life with more focus and intentionality.
Shepherdessbooks | 45 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |



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