By Ned Beauman
photo by Richard Avedon
Ranked 104th in the list of the most highlighted passages on Amazon’s Kindle website is a short clipping from The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris: “ ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ You won’t believe what you can accomplish by attempting the impossible with the courage to repeatedly fail better.”
The first half, of course, is a quotation from Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Ho (1983), and it must have struck a chord with Ferris’ readers. But for some reason, Ferris fails to take the opportunity to allude to Beckett anywhere else in his million-selling guide on “How to Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.”
What a missed opportunity! There’s so much more Beckett prose that’s totally appropriate to co-opt in a self-help book. How about, “Is not a uniform suffering preferable to one which, by its ups and downs, is liable at certain moments to encourage that view that perhaps after all it is not eternal?” That’s a useful one! Or even: “For me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on.”
Hard as it might be to accept, none of Beckett’s work is ever going to reach even one tenth as many people as this little crumb of Worstward Ho taken out of context.