Having already devoured one of Elizabeth Day’s novels, The Party, I had incredibly high hopes for her first non-fiction book – How To Fail, part memoir, part self-help manual. Her skill to observe and dissect human behaviour was one of many reasons I adored The Party, and this skill is just as present in How To Fail.
Reframing failure is the theme of this book.
A sentiment many of us understand and have possibly doled out at some point or another as well-intended advice; ‘if you learnt something it’s never a failure’. The familiar concept of ‘look for the lesson’ is about as groundbreaking as me suggesting a daily SPF as an anti-ageing solution. We’ve heard it before, but we need to spend more time meditating on this, not use it as a one-off anomaly when it suits, but as an expected and beautiful part of being human. And this is what standouts for me;
Day makes you think about failure not just as an abstract concept or a retrospective reframing of a situation, but as something to be welcomed and yes, also learnt from.
Day’s execution is thoughtful, nuanced and personal with a comforting honesty.
For me personally, as an actor, reframing so-called unsuccessful auditions as simply, part of the process is something I try to do. However, Day has elevated this thought for me, making me realise it’s an ongoing practise. Failure or rather the reframing of failure is a muscle to be exercised and strengthened. You hear these soundbites of wisdom throughout your life and I have found they evolve from theoretical, to familiar, to a light bulb moment of clarity, a profound understanding. I reached this understanding many times when reading How To Fail.
Day references her journalistic career throughout, and it came as no surprise to read how varied it has been. Her writing style screams of a mind opened by rich experiences and varied people. Calling upon interviewees wisdom and experiences as much as her own. Her empathetic nature makes her a great judge of character and an outstanding writer. Her honesty is from the same school of frankness we saw in Dolly Alderton’s best-selling memoir “Everything I know about Love“, which I also devoured (seriously, as I turned the last page to finish, I reopened and started it again). On the one hand, I related to Dolly and found a level of comfort I didn’t think was possible from words alone, I was soothed and humoured by her. But like a helpful mentor, I was challenged by Day’s words, feeling as if she wants nothing but the best for me. I actually think these two books would be great to read in succession of each other.
The chapter on How to Fail at Babies should be read by everyone.
Ask the men in your life to read it. Not only does she detail the gruelling experience of going through IVF, but she hits upon an important point about the way women’s fertility is spoken about and viewed in society. After the recent Alabama abortion bill if felt very eerie reading this chapter. Following on from the bill, Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin, touched upon this with his comments on social media; “This isn’t just an issue for women, it’s one for every human being.” Often the book reads more like a social commentary, delving much further than a formulaic ‘I failed but in the long run, it turned out for the best’. This is another triumph of the book; to get you thinking more broadly about our positions within society.