I thought I would kick off this month reading list with a little nonfiction.
Kindle Daily Deals always seem to sucker me in, and Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice seemed like a good selection, with its raving reviews, interesting combination of economics and psychology, and cheap-o price tag. Unfortunately, though, I’m having a time plowing through this one.
I’m honestly only about 70% through with reading this book. I’ve been breaking it up into 10-page “chunks” in between some spicier reads on my list. What I thought would be an introspective look into how and why we make choices is more to me like a really long repetitive magazine article that got turned into a book for some reason.
I get that Schwartz is writing for the layperson, but by introducing topics early in the novel, explaining them quite clearly, and then saying that he’s going to cover them again in specific chapters later on, which in turn is just turning his initial paragraph long description into pages upon pages of repetition with a few anecdotes sprinkled in – he is seriously insulting the “lay-person’s” intelligence.
It didn’t help my interest in finishing the novel when I stumbled upon this recent interview with Barry himself about the fact that one of the driving studies in the book, the jam test, has been seriously misconstrued.
All that aside, The Paradox of Choice describes how being assaulted with tons of options as a consumer, job hunter, or even just well rounded human being does not, in fact, make us happier or allow us to make the best choices. Opportunity costs weigh heavy on our minds. There are people called maximizers who will never be happy unless they make the perfect choice. There are people called satisficers who are better off because they know how to make the best choice within their means.
All I could think of as I plodded through the first few chapters is how I desperately need new running shoes.
The last pair I bought, I got lucky. I ordered them because they were on sale and I liked the looks of them. They ended up being a perfect fit, they didn’t need much breaking in, they never irritated me or gave me a blister. Still, they obviously weren’t the best choice possible because a) they don’t make them anymore and b) it was my first pair of road running shoes so I have nothing to compare them to. They had probably about 700 running miles alone on them, and that doesn’t count the couple times I wore them to work.
Still, new shoes needed to happen like a month ago. But I just never had a great opportunity. I wanted to get fitted for some, but there is no running store within an hour from me. Taking one of my coveted days off to risk driving in winter weather in rural PA just to get a pair of shoes seemed like an unworthy opportunity cost trade-off. Then I figured I could just order some online. But everywhere I looked there were too many options.
Now that I’ve ran for awhile, I am aware that liking the way a pair of shoes looks is not the way to go. Nor is reading reviews on Zappos that end in “and I run 4 miles a week in these and they feel great!”
So I just decided to stop looking for shoes period, and just cope with what I have until something came up.
According to Barry, I suffer from inaction inertia. Where I just don’t do anything at all because I can’t make a good decision. This was about my only aha moment thus far in reading this book. In action inertia to me just sounds like a kind way to call someone a cheap lazy ass who would rather wear busted up shoes than get their shit together and buy some.
So Sunday, I bit the bullet and did.
It only took me about 14 minutes to pick out some Brooks Ravennas. I liked the brand, the reviews seemed solid, and they aren’t too hard on the eyes.
Hopefully, my snap choice proves to be a good one. Hopefully also now that I’ve got that ongoing choice out of my mind, I can finish this damn book and call it a day.
Now that I think about it, though…
I need new boots, too.