Friday, August 23, 2013

Almost Perfect But Not Quite

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As a child, I loved Shel Silverstein's poetry. (And still do. One never grows too old for Shel Silverstein.) His delightfully silly rhymes provide entertainment for all ages, and one that has stuck with me is "Almost Perfect, But Not Quite," the chronicle of a girl named Mary Hume, who finds flaws in everything from heaven to her seventh birthday party. After my first reading, I grew angry with the main character, thinking she was ungrateful for her handsome husband and fancy party trimmings, no matter how tightly he hugged and despite the fact that they were not the color she wanted.

But now, as I age, I am beginning to see more and more truth in her words. I, too, am a perfectionist, a person who organizes her closet by color and holds numerous OCD bookish habits, and I can absolutely relate to Mary's predicaments. I still find her to be a bit negative, but I no longer judge her for looking at life with a discerning eye.

More than anything else, I am forced to reluctantly accept the truth in her words. Nothing in life is perfect. You cannot score 100% on every test; you cannot evade fights with your family and friends. And you can never find a flawless book to read.

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As a reader, this initially seems depressing. No matter how brilliant a story is, there is always something that could be better, even if it is just a small shift in word choice that makes a sentence flow more smoothly. Writing is an indefinite activity in which quality cannot be given a numerical value and is open for individual interpretation; it is infinite and can always be increased. And knowing that no matter how hard you search, you will never find a novel with no negatives may make reading seem unrewarding, a grinding search for gold that yields only flecks of the shimmering substance.

But think, what if a book that was literally perfect for you did exist? Sure, reading it would be amazing, but when you finished, the crash would be immediate. If finishing a story you loved gives you a "book hangover," an issue that appears to affect the vast majority of readers, leaving this world would leave you with a full-blows affliction. After experiencing such flawlessness, your mind would be tainted, trained to expect commensurate beauty out of every book you read. And only then would searching for a novel you love become a tireless task, because you could never find one quite as good.

Just like Mary Hume, we should all recognize the imperfections in the books we read. Unlike her, though, remember that these flaws are inevitable and necessary parts of being a reader, and embrace them for the vital part of literature they are. Be positive about the negatives, and do not be afraid to call a book "almost perfect" when you cannot think of anything bad to say. We will know what you mean, and you will keep your slate clean, unbiased for the next almost-perfect-but-not-quite book that comes your way.

8 comments:

  1. Actually I disagree with you with their being no perfect book. There are some books that I find absolute no fault with. Others might even if it's something small but how can I find fault with something I think is pure genius like A Monster Calls or A Little Wanting Song. How can I find fault with even a children's book that I've read over and over again like A Week in the Woods? I can't. That's why I call them my favorites. Even non favorites I can find truly amazing. Great post!

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    1. Yay for another opinion on my discussion post! I love your way of thinking, and I also love the feeling of finishing a novel and thinking, "Wow, I have nothing bad to say about this book." It sounds like we have similar reading experiences when it comes to stories like these but just choose to interpret our emotions in different ways. I hope you find another truly amazing book soon!

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  2. Love this post, Emily! I definitely know the feeling when you're like, this book isn't perfect, but I can't pinpoint what's wrong! But I honestly hate, hate, hate being a Negative Nellie! It's not that I don't think those negative things, but when it comes to reviewing, I always just want to focus on the positives! I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but that's just how I am! However, I always love reading your negative reviews (is that weird? haha!) because I think you're phenomenal at articulating exactly what you didn't like and why. Great post!

    xx
    Mere

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    1. I wouldn't say it's a bad thing to focus on the positives in a review! You obviously shouldn't lie, but I tend to do the same thing, allowing my reviews to take on a positive tone whenever possible. Praising a book makes one much happier than criticizing it (although ranting can be fun) and I would feel like a crazy person if I tried to be insanely nitpicky and write reviews that said things like, "Line five of chapter two wasn't written in iambic pentameter and it totally could have been! SHUN." Aw, thanks! I love all of your positive reviews because you always choose just the right smiling words to make me think, "I want to go read this book now!" Positive reviews really do make everyone happier. :)

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  3. Such a great post! (I hesitate to say PERFECT because, well, you know, but it was as close as anything will ever get)

    I happen to love the fact that books are never perfect because I grew up surrounded by books and, to me, nothing can ever be real if it is perfect. A character, a person, a kitchen appliance, even a book; I find beauty in the things that make them just shy of perfect.

    <3

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    1. Thank you so much! That, to me, is an even better compliment than "perfect."

      I completely agree with you. Despite the fact that I am the kind of person who will spend an hour straightening a shelf, I could never live in a world where everything was perfect; that would be the most boring thing ever. Relationships with people are strengthened by disagreements sprung from "imperfections" and reading an unblemished book or listening to a flawless song would seem robotic, as if it was created by a machine. Learning how to look at negatives as positives is a huge happiness helper and almost necessary for staying sane in a world full of dents, conflict, and letdowns.

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  4. Okay, I forgot to comment earlier, but then something reminded me of it and I HAD to go back and reread, which is what I just did because this post is beautiful. I basically have to remind myself of a lot of your points on a weekly...erm daily...basis.

    I wouldn't want to live in a perfect world and people being perfect sounds outrageously boring, but I think desire is to have everything the best it can be, which sounds like perfect, but really isn't. I want to do the best on my paper. I know it's POSSIBLE to get a 100% on this assignment/essay because either 1. I made correctable mistakes or 2. someone else received that high grade so I get very annoyed when I don't as well....if that makes sense. Same goes for the book I'm reading. I KNOW it can be better and if they just fixed these errors, it would be "perfect" in my mind.

    As for the book hangover, I definitely see what you're saying. However, I have read books that give me that feeling and I can't really explain it, but it's amazing. It makes me feel like I just read something incredible and did not "waste" a certain number of hours by reading. It just takes a little bit to read another book because I can't stop thinking about the previous one and it can't be compared. But I do read another. And after a while of running into so-so books, great books, good books, DNF books, etc...I find another book hangover-inducing book and start the process all over again.

    Sorry for my rambles, but I absolutely love this discussion. :)

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    1. Don't apologize for your rambles! I love rambling comments!

      I completely get what you are saying in your second paragraph, and your words accurately describe my entire life. The knowing you could have done better creates feelings ranging from frustration to anger to regret, even over the smallest tasks. Perfectionists have it rough.

      I have similar feelings on "book hangovers" as well. While finishing an amazing book can be upsetting, I feel elated as well. Not being able to stop thinking about a story is the biggest indication that it was not a waste of time, which is the best feeling to have upon finishing a novel.

      Thank you for your lovely-as-always comment, compliments, and contribution to this discussion!

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