An Imperfect Book Review

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I’m trying to finish A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Abrahamson and Freedman. I really am. I started off great-guns. The first couple of chapters were insightful, funny, and inspiring for a gal like me. I’m not a mess, just make a lot of piles and have two too many junk drawers. Well okay, three. The peppy beginning makes a connection with folks like me who can’t stand filth, but don’t see the inherent comfort in ritual cleaning/organization for its own sake. Such things, according to the book, take more time than they save, and if the object of organization is time-saving, well…there’s really no point. Not to mention the armies of organization specialists eager to pick your pockets and hand the cash over to The Container Store.

An entire generation of women brought up on those “How to Catch a Fella and Throw the Perfect Dinner Party” books are gasping for air right now. It’s okay, ladies. Loosen your pearls a notch and take a deep breath, because some things were forever altered when women jumped into the workforce for careers instead of jobs. A great many Women Of a Certain Age figured out – quickly – that they’d rather be judged by their resumes than by the spots on their glasses. And we’re all wearing bras now, thank you.
Any younger gals reading this are perplexed. I love those Gen-X and Gen-Y girls because they have no idea what I’m talking about and that, my friends, is a delightful sign of progress.
Back to the book I can’t finish. After the charming introduction and first couple of chapters, the whole thing begins to read like someone else – a historian with a cramped windowless office, perhaps – took over the helm. I’ll admit my lit degrees have given me low tolerance for nonfiction. I’ve devoured 18th century epistolary novels that weighed in like bibles, but it takes a special writer to carry off 310 pages of information without losing me entirely. I’m trying, though, because here and there are sparkling bits of usable information. Einstein, for example, was a daily disaster and look how proud he made his mama. I get it, there’s just no poetry in it whatsoever. Give me a sentence I can cling to, gentlemen.
It’s like handing a starving woman a Ding Dong when what she really needs is veal piccata.
Don’t worry, Abrahamson and Freedman. I’m going to finish your book because although I was advised to skim it, my Inner Reader won’t let me do it. I might miss something good and I’d never forgive myself. Besides, whoever wrote the first couple of chapters might just reappear in the end to finish up what they started and resuscitate the whole thing. It could happen.

9 thoughts on “An Imperfect Book Review

  1. I feel a need to form a new society. The society for people who have more than two junk drawers (I have 3 too, at least). We can be charter members!Steph

  2. I think my wife wrote the book you’re trying to finish. We’ve got the junk drawers, shelves, cabinets…we’ve got it all. 310 pages of information…sounds like a master’s class! Mike

  3. Welllll…according to the book, a junk drawer is actually a creative force. You never know what you’ll find in there or in what bizarre juxtapositions. We should do a whole workshop on Junk-Drawer Poetry. We all have to contribute ten (twenty?) items we’ve got stashed.See how mess can make you a better person?

  4. I agree the book slowed down after the first two chapters. There are still a few gems to come (sparse, but they’re there). I loved the part about stochastic resonance. Someone could write a whole book on that alone, but the authors didn’t give it enough air time. And have you see the tricycle desk? I’d kill for it. I wished they had more to say about that, too. http://www.flickr.com/photos/twhume/382881333/

  5. I clicked on this older post because I recently purchased a vintage rose pink linen shift like the one in the photo, but lo and behold, I stumbled upon a subject that has become even more near & dear to my heart – creative mess-making – in the last year since my big health adventure. There are several discussion threads on my peer-support forum about how women who have always kept their homes perfectly tidy become overwhelmed after diagnosis & treatment & turn into right ol' slobs like the rest of us. Partly it's just plain old fatigue. Plus the fact that their hubbies & children don't exactly leap into the fray to take over the housework. But partly it's the realization that there are many, many things in life more important than a clean house — like living to complain about having a messy one, for instance.

    Too bad it's not a great book, because I do like the title, not to mention the subject. I had a similar experience recently trying to slog through a book entitled “The Art Instinct” by Denis Dutton, in which he makes the case that the drive to create is a human instinct that we developed as part of our evolution, that there are survival benefits to the creation & enjoyment of art. Wonderful premise, abysmal writing. It's the sort of pointlessly verbose, obfuscating slop disguised as erudition that gives academic non-fiction its frequently-deserved bad name. I just gave up.

  6. My mother clung to the housework during her cancer battle. For a while, she was talked into having someone in to do the heavy cleaning, but she was never satisfied with the results and pushed herself beyond endurance. I believe it's the June Cleaver Syndrome.

    Ah, the scholars. Language constructed to exclude everyone outside the circle and impress all those within it. It's tiresome and a shame, especially when there's good information to pass on. Luckily, that small circle is growing smaller all the time. By the time these Gen Y kids get to the ivory towers, it will be a much different writing environment. I hope.

  7. I'm thinking we might be contemporaries, and I liked your attitude toward the book, women's progress, etc., more than I cared about the topic of the book. I came to terms with my lower level of mess/house pride many years ago.
    “It’s like handing a starving woman a Ding Dong when what she really needs is veal piccata.” Fab.

  8. I'm so glad you stopped by, Columbo. It's a good thing the world has turned a bit and there are larger considerations than starching linen napkins. Come back any time!

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