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.
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.