How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong [Elizabeth Day, 2019]

My reading has been all over the place for the last few months. Focusing on just one book has been hard. It takes time for me to plough through a book, because quality reading time gets trumped by other priorities all the time. While this is going on, my attention is easily captured by “book-baits”: sexy titles, suggestions I listen to on podcasts or read on the internet. I feel that it takes time and cognitive effort to be selective about what I read (among other things). I also have a few ongoing books that demand more focus, so sometimes I also crave something easier and more straightforward.


This is how I ended up buying How to Fail, by Elizabeth Day. I listened to a few episodes of the podcast and, on a whim, bought the book.

The concept of learning from failure and hardship is not lost on me. I find it interesting to listen to other people’s accounts of their personal and professional struggles, and how these have fuelled their efforts, their motivation to strive, and their appreciation for the things that they ultimately achieved.

In the podcast we have access to some interviews that bring out just that, and those were interesting to listen to. Sometimes, however, the conversation strayed a little and I ended up not really knowing which were actually the failures that fuelled the rest. Eventually, I stopped listening to it. I expected the book to be a solidly written memoir, with some anecdotes from other people’s experiences and maybe a little research to back it all up.

I was quite disappointed by the overall book and, frankly, in some chapters, it got a little on my nerves. I didn’t put it down because it was a quick read and the second half of the book is actually the more honest and captivating part of the story. In the first part, however, Elizabeth Day writes about her internal struggles growing up, facing relationships and a professional life. I found it hard to relate to because I felt it was written without depth. It was written about the struggles of a very specific type of woman, and Day acknowledges this, asking the reader to empathise and to be generous in understanding where she came from. Up to here… OK. But then, in some parts, especially in the first chapters, I found the tone to be mocking and even disdainful of other people who were different from her or who had criticised her. This was what got on my nerves.

I felt that the last few chapters were more honest, humble and portrayed a more relatable experience, albeit a very different one from my own. I feel that if more thought and work had been put into the book, it could be much more interesting, especially because I quite liked how Elizabeth Day writes – simple and straightforward, but also with humour.

2 thoughts on “How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong [Elizabeth Day, 2019]

  1. Segundo ela: fitting in quando era nova, num país diferente (Irlanda), na profissão (mas não achei nada de muito relevante), algumas coisas já nem me lembro (estás a ver o quão marcante foi a leitura)?
    O que me ficou mais foi o capítulo sobre a infertilidade (foi o relato que foi escrito com mais coerência e insight, a meu ver).


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