Reading More Without Living Less

Does Your Idea of Perfect Keep You from Reading More?

October 6, 2012

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” -Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

When I first began the book, The Happiness Project, I was skeptical. It sounded flaky and a rather shallow name for a project. I was wrong. Rubin is a professional author, historian, and researcher, and she blends her skills in a blaze of intellectual brilliance — weaving together strands of history, neuroscience, positive psychology, and just plain good sense into an accessible and page-turning lifestyle manual. She is a master of cross-pollination. While it’s like all books in that there were elements I didn’t agree with and portions that weren’t applicable to me, it was definitely a book where I came away with important ideas, many of which I hadn’t previously realized I’d needed.

Gretchen Rubin borrows her truism from Voltaire’s quote, Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (being interpreted, “The perfect is the enemy of the good”), and cross-pollinates that to each area for which she is trying to make resolutions for the year.

This truth of the perfect being the enemy of the good can apply to becoming a better reader:

  • Other people’s goals might seem bigger, and you may have failed to reach goals in the past; don’t let that keep you from setting goals. What is your ultimate goal? To read the most books out of all your friends, or to become a better reader? Set and follow goals that are in line with what you want to and can actually achieve, while at the same time not being afraid to push yourself.
  • Your idea of reading may be confused with retaining. Retaining the minutia of what you read, as Daniel observed here, is not the broader point of reading. Rather, the way we’re changed and the big pictures that we remember are more important. (Though there are certain books in which retaining dates, facts, and tiny details are important, but that’s aided by note-taking and highlighting. And studying–but that entails a different style of reading than most of what’s being discussed here.)
  • Don’t think you have to have the perfect devices (e.g. Kindle Fire), or the latest NYT bestseller book in order to establish a reading lifestyle. You may not have the latest version of the Nook (neither do I), but you probably have a book or two that you haven’t read. Go ahead and start where you’re at — the good — rather than trying to clamber somewhere you aren’t yet — “the perfect.”
  • The ideal of perfection as reading a ton isn’t the point. Reading for meaning, breadth, and depth, even if its just a few books in a year, is more important than blasting through tons of books for bragging rights.
  • Rather than wait for the perfect time to read, do it whenever you find a good time. A quiet moment after the kids are in bed may not be your ideal perfect time to read, but surely you can read for at least five minutes. Hey, it’s five minutes further along in building your knowledge and changing your life.
  • It’s very likely that not all the advice here will help you become a better reader and a reader of more. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, take the ideas that you can use, and run with them.



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  • Melinda October 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I am loving your series! You are giving me plenty of interesting things to think on after reading your posts.

  • Jason October 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Now that I think about it…yes, it does. I know I need to read a bit more. My wife keeps wanting me to read some of the parenting books she does, and I have a huge list of books in my own interest. I just see so much to read, and think I never have time to do it all. I can at least pick up one and start!! Good thoughts!

  • Ways to Help Remember What You Read: Part 1 | Keren Threlfall October 9, 2012 at 5:00 am

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