The Book of Heroic Failures
The Book of Heroic Failures, written by Stephen Pile in 1979, is a book written in celebration of human inadequacy in all its forms. Entries include William McGonagall, a notoriously bad poet, and Teruo Nakamura, a soldier of the Imperial Japanese Army who fought for Japan in World War II until 1974.
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 20,000 applications and closed in 1979 on the grounds that, "Even as failures, we failed" (but not before Pile himself had been expelled from it for publishing a bestseller). 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. In his second book The Return of Heroic Failures, published in 1988, Stephen Pile reports that Taiwanese pirates were not aware of this and did not include the erratum slip. The second book was published in the USA under the title Cannibals in the Cafeteria.
The second book came out in Greece in 1992 although the first one had never been published there. In fact, this second book was named "Η ΤΕΧΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΑΠΟΤΥΧΙΑΣ No1" (The Art of Failure No. 1). A small erratum slip in the book itself explains that it was a mistake. In an interview with English Radio DJ Andrew Marshall, Pile said, "The Book is one of the least successful books ever issued in the USA, I don't think it has reached double figures there as yet and long may that remain the case."
In 1999 Penguin made the decision to re-publish the book as part of their "Penguin Readers" series to encourage reading from a young age.
A third volume, The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures, was published by Faber and Faber in 2011, and a selection from the first two volumes (the author's last ever word on the subject of heroic failure) was published in 2012.
- Pile, Stephen (1979). The Book of Heroic Failures: Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. Futura. ISBN 978-0-7088-1908-1.
- Pile, Stephen (1988). The Return of Heroic Failures. Secker & Warburg. ISBN 978-0-436-37351-0. Published in the USA as Pile, Stephen (1989). Cannibals in the Cafeteria. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-016283-2.
- Pile, Stephen (2011). The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-27728-5.
- Pile, Stephen (2012). The Not Terribly Good Book of Heroic Failures. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-27733-9, a selection from the first two volumes.
- Pile, Stephen (1989). Cannibals in the Cafeteria. Harper & Row. p. xiii. ISBN 978-0-06-016283-2.
In only a few months the club had received 20,000 enquiries from members of the public wishing to join. And so in 1979 the club disbanded on the grounds that it was now a roaring success. Even as failures, we failed.
- Pile, Stephen (2012). The Not Terribly Good Book of Heroic Failures. Faber and Faber. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-571-27733-9.
When it [The Book of Heroic Failures] appeared in the bestseller list I was thrown out as president, having brought shame on the membership.
- Pile, Stephen (1989). Cannibals in the Cafeteria. Harper & Row. pp. xii–xiii. ISBN 978-0-06-016283-2.
Furthermore, readers will be glad to hear that the American edition came out with an erratum slip which was longer than the one listed in the book as a world record. (They omitted a healthy chunk of the introduction which added a much-needed air of mystery to the work.)
- Pile, Stephen (2012). The Not Terribly Good Book of Heroic Failures. Faber and Faber. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-571-27733-9.
As it happens, this is my last ever word on the subject of heroic failure ...
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