Epic Fail

Scott A. Sandage in The New York Times:

BookBooks about failure put both their authors and their readers in awkward positions. Writers are at pains to abase themselves somewhat, to show that they know the terrain by sacrificing some dignity without losing all credibility. Many readers, meanwhile, may be willing to ponder how they fail or why they fear it, but few will pick up a book for people who think of themselves as “failures.” Add to this the fact that all books fail to be everything their authors hoped and that almost all books fail to sell, and it becomes clear why books more unusual, especially two that fail (which about failure remain few and far between.

Two at once is even I mean in the nicest possible way) in different ways and take such different approaches to essentially the same question: How do we learn to stop worrying and love it when we bomb? Both authors appear to have worried about failure more than they have experienced it. Sarah Lewis, an art historian and curator who was named to O, the Oprah Magazine’s 2010 “O Power List,” celebrated her past and future failures in her college application essay (she went to Harvard) and alludes to life lessons from a janitor grandfather. Lewis invites us to think deeply about failure as a “gift” that is essential to creativity. Megan McArdle earned her M.B.A. but graduated after the dot-com bust, moving back into her parents’ New York City co-op and working part-time in her father’s firm. Eventually, she blogged her way into a journalism career at The Economist and an array of impressive print and online outlets. In “The Up Side of Down” McArdle wants to teach us how to “fail well” by changing how we react to inevitable setbacks. Chatty and digressive (six pages on her breakup in a chapter about the General Motors bailout), McArdle’s book remixes some of her magazine writing into small, easy doses.

More here.