And who would not want to be perfect? It takes only a bit of effort: “Get some sleep. Don’t give advice. Take care of your teeth and gums.”

Ron Padgett’s comic poem, “How to Be Perfect,” was first published in a 2007 Coffee House Press collection of the same name. The idea for the poem, Padgett said in an interview then, came “from someone who was wistfully drunk” and who asked him how to achieve perfection. “The ludicrousness of such a project intrigued me,” he said.

Coffee House has now repackaged the poem as an appealingly small stand-alone book, illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Jason Novak. His illustrations are sort of Jules Feiffer/James Thurber-esque, peopled by toothy, big-eyed humans who appear furtive and bewildered by their quest.

The poem is delightful, with advice sensible (“Learn something every day”) and goofily wise (“Look at that bird over there”). Actually, 98 bits of advice are sound. Follow them. Ignore the 99th: “Don’t read the newspaper more than once a year.”


Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books.

How to Be Perfect
Ron Padgett, illustrated by Jason Novak
Publisher: Coffee House Press, 99 pages, $14.95