On Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect

           Shauna Niequist’s exquisite, gorgeously written new book, Present Over Perfect, is out today.  It also happens to be her best.  This is a writer at the height of her powers.   Her prose feels effortless—though as usual, she is altogether honest about all the ways her life is anything but.  This paradox captures much of what is so special about Shauna as a writer.  Pavarotti singing opera, Kanye making beats, and Russell Westbrook driving the lane all feel effortless too, but genius is deceitful that way.  The fact is, Shauna is a ruthlessly smart writer and relentless reader (who seems to read and metabolizes basically every good book ever written), but isn’t pretentious about any of it.  

This at least partly accounts for why Present Over Perfect occupies such a unique space.  When you read it, you will believe she does in fact experience life in all the elementally human ways that you and I do—but she tells about it much better than any of us could.  There is a sparseness, cleanness, an economy of words in the book that especially compels me.  Present Over Perfect does not contain a wasted sentence, nor for that matter a dishonest one.  Like, Hemingway, one of her literary heroes, she does not waste space with superfluous adjectives, fluff, or really anything that doesn’t actually take you anywhere. 

Shauna is s a master storyteller who makes every chapter feel like the content of a conversation over wine after one of her famous feasts.  But as she’s sharing her stories and her wisdom, she’s taking you down into the depths of your own soul.  Her own candor about love and family and work and fear broke me open to feel the frantic, harried nature of my own still frazzled inner life, and stirred up the ache and longing for a deeper, richer way of being.  And then she takes us on the journey with her, marking the signposts on the way toward wholeness. 

I was not surprised at the wit, honesty, or grace in the telling.  I was not surprised either by the clarity with which she narrates her hopes and heartaches, nor the ways she puts me back in touch with my own.  The universality—the getting-to-the-thing-beneath-the-thing quality, is something I’ve come to expect from Shauna Niequist as a writer. 

What I was not prepared for, perhaps, was just how much Present Over Perfect made me believe that it might yet be possible to de-clutter my own life for the “simple, more soulful way of living” she describes here.  For while I admire Shauna’s brand of truth-telling, the book made me want to live these truths even more than amen them.  There are no hollow or over-simplified promises here, which is part of why Present Over Perfect transcends the Christian living genre.  This is hard fought for, experiential wisdom forged in the fire of reality.  This is an invitation not to change your mind, but to change your life—a book that almost can’t be read without prompting prayer, tears, and self-examination.

And yet, none of it feels high, lofty, or esoteric.  Present Over Perfect is a summons to attend fully to the moment you’re in—the place where God always is.  To read it, is to come awake.