Review: Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time

In the introduction to Hanging Out, Sheila Liming defines her book as "partly a manifesto and partly an invitation to come meander," and based on the title, readers might assume it is mostly meandering: a loose celebration of the kind of unstructured gatherings that might have been common once but are now rare in most adult lives. While Liming (What a Library Means to a Woman) does celebrate these open-ended social interactions, her writing does not meander; instead, it straddles the line between academic and accessible, ultimately creating a tightly argued, brilliantly written book that will be discussed at the best dinner parties and back porch hangouts.

Organized around situations where hanging out might occur ("at parties," "on the job"), the book draws upon Liming's knowledge in a wide range of fields, including literature, philosophy, theory and culture. This depth of field is what sets Hanging Out apart from similar offerings, those explaining how to be happier or more productive or organized. Liming assembles a variegated and complex set of ideas to build an argument rich with intellectual history. For instance, the chapter "Hanging Out with Strangers" centers on a few isolated days the author spent in Aberdeen but also circles the 2015 German-language film Victoria, about a single night in the life of a young woman "desperate to discover social inclusion." From there, Liming moves easily through such topics as risk and reward, isolation and identity, Walter Benjamin's theories of modernity and naming, and Lauren Berlant's commentary on the work of French philosopher Jacques Lacan. So smart yet so accessible, Hanging Out will impress readers with the way each idea builds on the next, never forced and always human.

Liming also weaves in stories and experiences from her own life, which has seen the transition from fully analog interactions to the digital world in which everyone is now immersed. Not at all a polemic against technology, however, Hanging Out helps readers see nuance: "Digital devices and technologies make that other kind of hanging out easier, but they also strip it of the experiences and particularities of place. What gets lost, along with those particularities, are deeper shades of connection, intimacy, and meaning." Throughout, Liming encourages those deeper shades, found most often in the company of people we care about and in the time we set apart for each other. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Shelf Talker: Smart and accessible, Hanging Out encourages deeper shades of connection, found most often in the company of people we care about and in the time we set apart for each other.

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