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(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 37: A brilliant answer to all those self-help books about becoming successful

"To Quin-Xiang-Yi who in 1846 was given the title 'distinguished failure' in recognition of his 20 years spent failing the Chinese Civil Service entrance exams.  Buoyed up by this honour he went on to failed several times more." - Dedication of "The Return of Heroic Failures" by Stephen Pile.

The Book of Heroic Failures - (subtitled The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain) and The Return of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile

So I'm breaking a rule (an appropriate failure) and talking about more than one book. But these two really go together and very sadly are both out of print, although available as second-hand copies from various sellers.  Thus sadly I don't expect a rush of people to book stores to try and acquire a copy.

But if ever a duo books caused belly-aching, tears-inducing, raucous laughter then these are the ones.   When Stephen Pile first published The Book of Heroic Failures in 1979, it became a runaway bestseller (thus failing at failing!) for good reason.   It was followed by The Return of Heroic Failures in 1988 and promptly  became yet another one of those books that you borrowed from a friend and found hard to return.

To illustrate that last statement, my copy of  The Book of Heroic Failures disappeared into that black hole created by trusted friends who 'will definitely return stuff', whereas the copy of The Return of Heroic on my bookshelf does not actually belong to me, but to a friend, as her name written on the inside cover clearly attests. 

So I guess if you have not read one or both of these or want to read it again but you don't own a copy (or someone failed to return it or something), your only choice would be to go through a friend's library and smuggle theirs out.  But make a point of giving it back it, please, otherwise I get blamed for instigating such a heinous crime.  Or check at E-Bay and second-hand booksellers and Amazon and others.

These collections of real-life anecdotes of things that people did and succeeded to do all wrong, are better than a visit to a shrink and at the same time will make your own recollections of locking yourself out of your house or turning up at a smart social event on the wrong date seem like nothing at all.  

For those who will nevertheless tragically yet heroically fail to obtain a copy, here is a little taste of what  you are missing (from the introduction to The Return of Heroic Failures):

"You have all by now lost your copies of The Book of Heroic Failures and some of you have gone to even further lengths and not read it at all. Perhaps I should start by reminding everyone that it was a heartfelt counterblast to the all-pervading success ethic in Western Culture..."

Ans here is something I found on Wikipedia:

"The original edition included an application to become a member of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain; however, this was taken out in later editions because the club received over 30,000 applications and closed on the grounds that it was 'a failure as a failure.' The American version of the book was misprinted by the publishers, who left out half the introduction. As a consequence, later versions of the book came out with an erratum slip longer than the entire introduction."

I really, really wish someone would organise a reprint of the original (not the watered-down, shortened version that was later published as reading matter to encourage kids to read). 

But until now every publisher has failed miserably.


One of my favourite photographic themes is that of windows and doors.  This one heroically fails at its original purpose.


  1. May I borrow your borrowed copy?


  2. Haha I would have to check with my friend Sarie - she's visiting at the end of November and may want to borrow it back.

    It also depends on whether you are one of those people who can be trusted to keep it safe but own up at some stage. My original "Book of Heroic Failures" has clearly gone the way of no-returns so whereas it passes on the test of failure to return, I'll hate to pass on something as valuable as this bit of fun to someone who will do the same with a borrowed book:)

    Unless your "S" actually stands for Sarie - in which case I am in trouble with you anyway *chuckle* for keeping it this long - at least 2 years since my last visit to Pretoria :)

  3. Entertaining read, Lee, and I love the failed window project photo! J

  4. Hi Jacquie,

    I plan to use more of my "windows" photographs - need to dig some of them up that comE from all over Europe and so on. But I have taken quite a few recently and will continue taking more. I've had visions of a book of pictures of those with verse. One never knows, I might even get around to it...

  5. Lee 'your' book and failed failures reminds me of a similar failure. I collect, inter alia, dictionaries. I had a gem - "The Dictionary of Embarassing Situations" which tightened the tummy muscles, it was that funny. I lent it to a 'friend' ...


  6. Wow, I really want to read that book, but I'm afraid what might happen if I borrow 'your' copy... ;)



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