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Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living

by Jason Gay

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-53946-3
Publisher: Doubleday

Instructive essays in a comedic vein.

In the 1990s, copies of Richard Carlson’s Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and its many sequels) were seemingly everywhere, giving readers either the confidence to prioritize their stresses or despondence over the slender volume’s not addressing their particular set of problems. While not the first book of its kind, it kicked open the door for an industry of self-help, worry-reduction advice guides. In his first book, Wall Street Journal sports columnist Gay takes less of a guru approach, though he has drawn an audience of readers appreciative of reportage that balances insights with a droll, self-deprecating outlook. He occasionally focuses his columns on “the Rules” (of Thanksgiving family touch football, the gym, the office holiday party, etc.), which started as a genial poke in the eye at the proliferation of self-help books and, over time, came to explore actual advice “both practical and ridiculous” and “neither perfect nor universal.” The author admirably combines those elements in every piece in the book, which is no small feat given the difficulty inherent in providing guidance that is at once relevant—neither too specific nor too vague—and also genuinely funny. Gay helpfully categorizes different levels of stress with examples early in the book—from “actual stress” (suffering of a loved one, loss of a job, “bear attack, hawk attack, bobcat attack”) to “perceived stress” to “not stress” (“boss hasn’t returned email, Netflix is buffering, Anything to do with fantasy football”). The chapter on the author’s long fashion education is priceless; he describes one phase of his style as “a black cotton vest, with a T-shirt under it, sometimes worn with shorts and boots. I looked like Blossom hiking on the Appalachian Trail.”

Gay’s observations about his stumbles through life, and the little victories that come from learning from those stumbles, make for a rollicking good read.