This week Hannah Whittaker is looking at Failosophy: a handbook for when things go wrong, by award-winning journalist and author Elizabeth Day.
When January 2022 briskly arrived, I once again decided to jot down some of my reading goals for the year. My reading patterns consist largely of fiction novels, so, this year, I decided to delve deeper into the world of non-fiction. I think that the reason so many people are drawn into fictional worlds is because they provide an escape from reality, and some people (me being one of them) turn away from non-fiction books due to the worry that they won’t provide the same unique reading experience. Two months into 2022 and two non-fiction books down, I can happily say my intentions to read more non-fiction has allowed a new reading experience to bloom for me. My previous two book club reviews are both fictional novels, so I thought it was about time to introduce you all to one of the amazing non-fiction books that I have read this month.
The name Elizabeth Day may already be familiar with some of you, as she hosts a popular podcast called ‘How to fail with Elizabeth Day’. Day’s podcast describes itself as one that “celebrates the things that haven’t gone right” and invites special guests to talk about their failures and what these experiences have taught them. The podcast episodes have featured some extraordinary people, from Graham Norton to Phoebe Waller-Bridge (my personal favourite episode). Day’s success with her podcast has lined her up perfectly to delve into the world of non-fiction writing and has produced, in my opinion, a perfect little handbook that will appeal to all readers whether you just read fiction, read every day, or don’t read at all.
In 2019, Day released her first non-fiction novel titled How to Fail, where she took a more personal approach. This book can be considered part memoir, part manifesto, where Day takes us through rich stories from her own life. How to Fail and Failosophy differ in a number of ways, with her more recent book taking a more structured route in describing what Day has established as the ‘seven failure principles’. Failosophy, consisting of only 145 pages,
is designed to be something that you can jump in and out of. In the introduction, Day states herself, “read it all in one go, or dip into relevant sections whenever you encounter failure in a specific part of your life”. I absolutely love this framework that Day has built her book upon as, for non-frequent readers, the act of reading or finishing a book becomes a whole lot less intimidating. Some people find it difficult to fit in personal reading around their busy lives, and this book caters to that perfectly.
One element of this book that I instantly picked up on is how relevant it is in today’s society. We live in a world where many people struggle to deal with their failures, and with the constant pressure from social media and online platforms, we are led to believe that some people don’t even fail at all, presenting their perfect “unedited” lives online. Clearly, most people know that what they see on Instagram or Tik Tok is only part of the picture and that part is what the users choose to show us. We are faced with false realities that make us doubt our own failures in life and how we should be dealing with them. In Failosophy, Day draws on her conversations with her guests on her podcast show, weaving their candid discussions into her failure principles. Hearing from these celebrities and the particular struggles that they’ve faced helps make this book a genuine and honest read, with the reader being able to identify and find similarities with well-known individuals who, from the outside, may appear to never have failed at all. Being vulnerable and sharing your failures in life is, as Day says, an act of compassion, which ultimately connects people rather than isolating them.
Intertwined into her seven principles and podcast snippets, Day brings a certain humour to her writing which allows the reader to read comfortably. It isn’t easy for anyone to face up to their failures and overcome them, and the topics
that Day addresses can be difficult to read when you apply them personally. However, by bringing humour and familiarity into her writing, she offers a frank and vulnerable insight into her and her interviewee’s lives. I found that the different perspectives that were provided also made this a good read. Ultimately, there is no right way to deal with failure and reading individual stories and how each of them coped made that very clear. The road to dealing with failure is certainly not straight and narrow, and by providing different accounts, Day allows the reader to learn how these seven principles, if any, can apply to them personally.
All in all, Day provides an adaptable guide to take you through the process of failing, how to deal with it, how to learn from it, and how to move onwards with your life. There is genuine help and advice offered to the reader, a lot of which I will think of when I process my own failures in the future, but Day also acknowledges that these principles won’t work for everyone. I found this read encouraging, insightful, and courageous from all accounts and appreciated her overall message that we all need to try and let go of the fear of failure. Although some concepts that Day draws upon are not new, it is important to be reminded and go back to the basics. I loved this book and will definitely be dipping back into it when I need a gentle reminder that my failures are normal, and I have the power to deal with them!