My friend Chicken John wrote a book. It's about failure, and you should read it. Here's the review I wrote of it.
There aren’t many taboos in modern Western culture; it’s all been on display. Failure, though, is ours. It’s not just distasteful to talk about failure - in a world of self-made men and women who can triumph through blah blah blah, it’s somehow tacky to talk about failure, as though it were contagious. Failure is the leprosy of our age. A book exploring failure - I prefer Chicken’s term, ‘engineered disperfection’ - is thus a taboo-busting book.
And no one is in a better position to write that book than Chicken John. He is a man who has done things that you wouldn’t conceive of. No, rather, he has done the things you would conceive of, but would never do - because they’re ludicrous, because they’re dirty, because they’re inconvenient – because, in short, you flinch from failure.
Chicken embraces failure. He’s friends with failure. Failure has probably lent Chicken money.
This book chronicles ‘failure’. The kind of ‘failure’ that is inevitable if you pursue a life based on the things you love – and shows what a sad and fragile little monster that failure really is. Along the way, it explains what a ‘winner’ is - and why you never, under any circumstances, want to be one. Chicken is a foul-mouthed bodhisatva, revealing through the art of ‘severe comedy’ a modern-day interpretation of the Vedantic wisdom that all of life is a Show.
It’s not a philosophical essay, though; it’s as close as you can get to sitting down at a bar (one with full-size pint glasses, I hope) with the man and hearing the stories. The photos are stupendous, with archival images, full-page spreads, and a gorgeous photo essay of boats made of junk crashing the Venice Biennale. It’s as visually stunning as it is mind-boggling.
And through it all there’s a point. It’s not didactically delivered, but it’s inescapable. I won’t state it myself - it’s a fragile kind of thing, and couldn’t bear to be said directly. But Chicken evokes it perfectly. It will give you hope, as well as rage, discomfort, joy, and at least three episodes of laughing your ass off.
It’s hard to say that ‘everyone should read this book’ but I can’t help it. Certainly every young person stepping off the cliff into the world, because it gazes honestly and fully at failure and at wild, ruthless optimism. If you know Chicken, you will learn things you didn't know. If you don't know Chicken, you will be astonished that the world allows him to survive - and you'll ask how. And the answer is right there in front of you.