Inspired by her hugely popular podcast, How to Fail is Elizabeth Day’s brilliantly funny, painfully honest and insightful celebration of things gone wrong. Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship. It is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It’s a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.
Uplifting, inpiring and rich in stories from Elizabeth’s own life, How to Fail reveals that failure is not what defines us; rather it is how we respond to it that shapes us as individuals.
Because learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better. And everyone needs a bit of that.
I was lucky enough to hear Elizabeth Day speak at a 4th Estate Books event around the time of publication of How to Fail, an entertaining speaker, I felt confident that I would enjoy her book. Impressively open, in her speaking and writing the author shares many relatable moments about failing (or not succeeding), shame inducing moments that we try to forget. Much of what she writes about is amusing, failing at being Gwyneth Paltrow and the infamous vagina steaming, but actually every anecdote has a serious side. The amount of time and money Gwyneth Paltrow invests in looking and being Gwyneth Paltrow is extraordinary and unachievable for most women. So an instant fail.
Other stories are more poignant. Day’s failed marriage and failure to conceive are both very sad but she is open and honest in the telling and this feels very important. Talking about success she referenced Nicole Kidman who at the height of her professional success was desperately sad following the end of her marriage and fertility issues. Viewed as hugely successful but for her she wasn’t achieving what she needed to feel good and in essence felt she was failng.
There is a huge shame attached to failure and I think this is especially true for women. But in this book, the author not only explores the importance and indeed inevitability of failing but also our perception of it. I agree that we learn and grow from our biggest failings but they are still painful. And for me that is what makes this relatable book so impressive, the searingly honest accounts of failing, that shouldn’t be shameful and will only become less so by more acceptance and honesty. Reframing how we view our failings seems useful and something to think about some more.
I read this from cover to cover, but it will be a book I dip into again in the future, amusing and reassuring in equal parts and a book I think most women could identify with. I came away from hearing Elizabeth Day speak feeling impressed and that has increased ten-fold now. I just wish she was my friend!
About the Author
Elizabeth Day is the author of four novels. Her acclaimed debut Scissors, Paper, Stone won a Betty Trask Award and Home Fires was an Observer book of the year. Her third, Paradise City, was named one of the best novels of 2015 in the Evening Standard, and The Party was an Amazon bestseller and a Richard and Judy book club pick. She is also an award-winning journalist and has written extensively for The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Observer, Harper’s Bazaar and You magazine and host of the iTunes chart-topping podcast, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
She grew up in Northern Ireland, and currently lives in London