Book Review: How To Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong – Elizabeth Day

About The Book

Inspired by her hugely popular podcast, How To Fail is Elizabeth Day’s brilliantly funny, painfully honest and insightful celebration of things going wrong. 

This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone. 

If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.

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, inspiring 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.

My Review

I am a massive fan of Elizabeth Day’s writing and have read and loved both The Party and Paradise City (and have her other books on my Kindle) so was very excited to read How To Fail. Based on her extraordinarily successful podcast of the same name, Elizabeth Day has written a collection of essays about the various ways she has failed in life. Her belief is that in order to really, really succeed we need to have failed first and it is through her various failures, some whimsical others incredibly personal that we come to learn that everybody fails somewhere in life, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The How to Fail podcast interviews people from the public eye about their failures and some of these conversations are quoted in this book. If you haven’t listened to the podcast please do, it is utterly brilliant. From Alistair Campbell talking about his breakdown, to Lily Allen talking about the press to Phoebe Waller-Bridge talking about the time she humiliated herself in front of Meryl Streep it is at turns emotional and hilarious.

How To Fail, the book is searingly honest and personal and explores such things as the time her parents sent her to Russia aged thirteen for a month, to divorce, infertility and the difficulty and absolute joy of friendship. Just like the podcast it is emotional with heartbreaking moments like, the end of her marriage, to hilarity when she tells us about moving to LA and spends a week living like Gwyneth Paltrow, vaginal steaming and all.

Elizabeth Day is only a couple of years older than me and so when she writes that the “mood music of my twenties was provided by the Friends theme tune and the clatter of the Sex and the City heels on New York sidewalk” I nodded along in agreement and then later when she ascertains that if we weren’t sitting with a group of friends discussing our sex lives over a Cosmo we were “failing to make the most of it” I nearly gave myself whiplash. The message of the late 90s/early 00s was that women should have a career, be part of a group of amazing friends, have one night stands with hot men and not get pregnant just yet. But what if you aren’t doing these things? What if you are in your twenties and in a long term relationship and you want to make some of Nigella’s brownies and a recipe from the Naked Chef on a Sunday? Is that failing? Or is it just a different version of succeeding?

Whilst her childhood was different to mine in that she moved to Northern Ireland during the Troubles and I was ensconced in a school in Northumberland, the feelings she experienced there were not unlike those that many young girls feel at school. The complicated nature of female friendships (the most awful feeling in the world is having your best friend stolen from you by another girl as a child), the way teenage girls can be vile to one another, not quite fitting in and feeling unattractive are all things that every woman has experienced at some point. The way she writes about these things is brilliant and utterly relatable, although this is her personal story it is one that resonates deeply.

In fact, even if you haven’t had the same life experiences you have felt something like it. How To Fail is like a really good chat with a good friend, it is powerful and empowering read and, I don’t think I am overstating when I say it was possibly one of the most important books I’ve read. I feel heard and understood and at times I felt she had crawled inside my head and written down my thoughts and feelings. I finished it feeling wrung out and raw but ultimately I found it very uplifting and moving and it is a book I will return to again and again.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Netgalley, 4th Estate and William Collins for an advanced copy of How To Fail by Elizabeth Day, it was my pleasure to read and review. How To Fail is published on the 4th April 2019 in both hardcover and ebook.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: How To Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong – Elizabeth Day

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