The Joy of Doing Things Badly: A Girl's Guide to Love, Life and Foolish Bravery

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Press:Bantam Dell Pub Group Broadway (May 8, 2007)
Author Name:Chambers, Veronica


In a society that puts so much emphasis on perfection, Veronica Chambers mischievously casts aside the guilt-inducing litany of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” that seems to define modern-day life and replaces it with a resounding call to live with “foolish bravery.” Refreshingly open about the personal failures and limitations that once weighed her down with shame, Chambers describes how she turned her less-than-perfect qualities into sources of delight and satisfaction. 
From belting out off-key renditions of torch songs while washing the dishes to seeing even the most unlikely career opportunity as a chance to spread one’s wings, Chambers shows that a willingness to fall flat on one’s face heightens the joys of everyday life and opens a new, wonderfully liberating perspective on work, motherhood, aging, friendship, failure, and success.
With a winning combination of lighthearted anecdotes and heartfelt musings, Chambers encourages readers to follow her example and do the things that tickle their fancies and fire their imaginations—no matter what other people (and that little voice inside) may say.
Like Chambers herself, they’ll discover that “what we consider our failures have a surprising ability to charm .
we are loved for our imperfections—for our funny faces and walks and dances and songs.”


Advance Praise for The Joy of Doing Things Badly“Wickedly wise and literally delicious, Veronica Chambers’s The Joy of Doing Things Badly is the perfect desert island gift to self, or friend, stranded and starving on the island of perfectionism.” —Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Pushkin and the Queen of Spades “This delightfully honest book is a must-read for every woman who has ever failed and triumphed—and for every woman who has ever been afraid to try. 
Chambers reminds us that it is not only okay to fail, it is imperative in a life lived with gusto.” —Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, author of The Dirty Girls Social Club“Women in all cultures are encouraged to go to ridiculous extremes to live up to others’ expectations.
Finally, a self-help book that says STOP—happiness comes from taking risks and making mistakes, not from seeking perfection.
Here’s a book that hands out advice for discovering the joy of failure—good advice for women everywhere.” —Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families “There is so much joy in this book! Veronica Chambers writes with a child’s delight at living life and with an elder’s wisdom, a rare and precious combination.”—Elizabeth Alexander, Yale University, poet, essayist, playwright“A wonderful and inspirational book for both women and men on how to truly enjoy life, no matter what it throws at you.” —Marcus Samuelsson, chef, restaurateur, author of Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine“Just like a conversation with your best girlfriend, The Joy of Doing Things Badly is good food for the soul.”—Alisha Davis, MTV News

About the Author

VERONICA CHAMBERS is the author of When Did You Stop Loving Me (aka Miss Black America), Having It All?, and Mama’s Girl. 
She was formerly the culture writer for Newsweek, a senior associate editor at Premiere, and an executive editor at Savoy.
Her writing has appeared in many magazines, including Glamour, Vogue, Esquire, New York Times Magazine, and O, The Oprah Magazine.
She lives in California with her husband.Visit Veronica at
To receive her Joy newsletter, send an e-mail to, with I want some JOY! in the subject line.
For college lectures and Joy workshops, please contact Veronica’s lecture agents at RIM is a freelance illustrator and shoe designer living in Brooklyn, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1What I've Learned From Julia ChildOn the Saturday following Julia child's death, I was in the bathroom of a restaurant and I overheard the following conversation. 
The woman in the first stall said, "I'm so stupid.
I tried to make myself a piece of salmon for dinner and I had no idea what to do.
So I put it in the pan to saute it, but I hadn't put any oil in so it all stuck to the pan.
I didn't know how long to cook it, so I let it cook until it was practically burned!" The woman in the second stall said, "No big deal! Did you know that Julia Child didn't learn how to cook until she was thirty-six years old?" The first woman, the salmon torcher, emerged from the stall with a huge smile on her face.
"I'll be thirty-five on my next birthday," she said.
Her friend emerged from the stall next to her and said, "See, you could be the next Julia Child.
You could change the face of cooking."The whole conversation made me smile because it was indicative of so many things that I've been thinking about: How we beat ourselves up over the tiniest things, about the primal role food plays in our lives, and how much Julia Child has taught us not only about food but also about life.
It seems like the older we get, the higher the bar is raised.
I remember, as a child, being so impressed by all the whiz kids that I'd read about in the news: gymnasts and ballet dancers, chess players and piano prodigies.
I honestly remember thinking, at the age of eleven, that if only I applied myself then maybe I could do something with my life! Even when I ended up going to college at the age of sixteen, I still felt only average.
At the early college I attended, half of the college freshmen were fifteen.
The year I started college, there were two fourteen-year-old freshmen and one who was just thirteen.
At sixteen, I was practically a remedial first-year college student!Julia Child's The Way to Cook has been a staple of my adult life.
I turn to it the way I imagine that a 1950s housewife would ring up her mother.
How do you steam an artichoke? How long do you boil an ear of corn? What exactly does it mean to poach a piece of fish? Whenever a direction in a recipe was puzzling, I opened The Way to Cook and "asked" Julia.
In the months since Julia Child passed away, I've been digging into her life and learning about more than cooking.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" is an old Zen saying.
And as I get into the thick of my thirties--the years when Julia Child got married, learned how to cook, found her true calling--I'm assured that the wisdom of the Zen saying is true.
Piano prodigies and Russian gymnasts be damned, I love the idea that for both myself and the girl I overheard in the bathroom, the ride, the real roller coaster ride of life, is just about to begin.
So in the unscientific and unflinchingly honest way that she heralded, here are just a few of the things that I have learned from Julia Child.Lesson 1: Hang on to your friends.Long before she taught the world how to cook and became in the manner of all great personalities, the kind of figure that a million strangers thought of as a friend, Julia Child was the center of a vibrant social circle.
Rosemary Mannell, who served as a kind of sous chef on Julia's first public television show, The French Chef, had known Julia and her husband since 1949 when they all lived in France.
Paul Child and Rosemary's husband, Abram, were in the Foreign Service together.
The two couples became a sort of gourmet club, getting together for frequent dinners at the Childs' apartment on the Rue de l'Universite or at the Mannells' on the Ile St-Louis.
Elizabeth Bishop, another one of the sous chefs on Julia's show, once told a friend, "Cooking is the least of it.
You know in a funny way, I feel closer to Julia than I do to anyone.
Of course, I'm closer to Jack [Bishop] and the children, but there are things I could say to her that I couldn't say to anyone else."There were other friends.
Simca Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom Julia started Les Ecole de Trois Gourmands, the small, private cooking school that they ran out of the Childs' Paris apartment.
There was Avis DeVoto, who served as an informal editor for Julia's first, groundbreaking book.
"We both liked to write letters," DeVoto told an interviewer.
"There was a lot to write about.
The McCarthy thing was heating up in Washington.
Julia and Paul were both rather frightened by it.
Sometimes we'd write each other three or four times a week."I love this, because I am so over e-mail.
At any given time, I find myself fifty to a hundred messages behind.
If I am especially busy, my in-box swells to five hundred, and it becomes impossible for me to pick out the wheat--a missive from a beloved friend, news of a baby born or a new job, or a fond "remember when"--from all the chaff, the department store sale updates, the sure-fire investment advice, and offers for Internet porn.
I try to write letters because I like getting something in the mail besides bills and junk, and I imagine that my friends feel the same.
I try to send paper birthday cards for the same reason.
I water the gardens of my relationships the best way I know how because, like Julia, I want to have fifty-year-old friendships one day.What to do, though, about the weeding of such gardens? I cannot let a friendship go.
Do not ask me to do it.
Sometimes, when I get to the point where I know a friendship must end but I am too jelly-bellied to do it, the universe performs the amputation for me.
I move or my friend moves, and there are no hard feelings.
But sometimes, a friendship lingers on and on and then what to do?There is no manual for breaking up with a friend.
Therapists, religious leaders, wise women, and elders guide us through the dissolution of romantic relationships and marriage, but there is no high court of friendship to legally and permanently break its bonds.
Without this guidance, the ailing friendships in my life break up in fits of pent-up fury and frustration.
In the last ten years, I have broken up--or been dumped--by three dear friends.
Every case involved tears; hundreds of dollars' worth of therapy; a film festival of sappy chick flicks; and an elementary school girl's conviction that if I were prettier, more popular, and less of a "super freak," the friendship would still be intact.
This tremendously mature life view has been highlighted only by the fact that I am highly resistant to change.
At every social gathering, my internal MP3 player blasts the same track over and over again: "No new friends.
No new friends." Honestly, I never got the whole "Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, and the other's gold" business.
Who wants silver when you've got gold?Lately though, I have been wondering whether this passion I have for my old friends, as flawed as each one of us may be, could be chalked up to something more than my being bullheaded and stubborn.
The older I get, the more I value my friends as witnesses to the girl I once was and the young woman I'll never be again.
As my life becomes more settled, I want to look into a friend's eyes and see the me that danced on top of bars, drove a convertible through the desert in Mexico, and unabashedly wore blue eye shadow on my chocolate brown skin.
As I become increasingly comfortable with a certain level of success, I want to hold on to the friends who know how hard I worked to get here, the ones who stop me mid-sentence when my humility veers into a kind of disingenuous, self-flagellating deprecation.I look around my apartment at the gifts my friends have given me.
Treasured books that represent shared passions like Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice, recipes scrawled in familiar handwriting, Depression-era glass found by a friend who has an eye for such things--and I do not want the objects I own to outlast the friendships they sprung from.
Which is why during a recent break-up with a friend, I decided no, I could not, did not, want to lose this friend.
Maybe we won't pal around every weekend, maybe we shouldn't send e-mail every day.
But I don't want to drive the long way around her house.
I don't want to clench my teeth when mutual acquaintances mention her name.
She is one of the funniest, smartest, most engaging people I know.
And more.
To quote Alice Munro, she is a friend of my youth.
I want to know her.
I want to keep getting to know her, even if it's from the polite distance of a semiannual cup of tea.
I want to be in my nineties, like Julia Child, and be able to reminisce with this woman about the lives that we lived.
We may not always get along in the present, but I have never not been fascinated by her stories, her jokes, the way she views the world.
So I called her, and I begged her.
We are two yolks poured into a bowl, I said.
Don't ask me to unbeat this egg.Lesson 2: Laughter makes a woman beautiful.Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams, in Pasadena, in 1912, to a family of California landowners.
Like so many well-heeled girls of her age, she attended Smith College, the women's college.
Her mother had been in Smith's class of 1900.
Julia entered in 1934, with the vague aspiration of becoming a novelist and a perhaps unstated understanding that her ultimate degree would be an "Mrs." She wrote for the college newspaper, then moved to New York, where she took a job at an advertising firm.
"I had a very good time doing virtually nothing," she has said of this time.
"There was always lots of fun and laughter." I can imagine Julia carousing around New York in the 1930s to a soundtrack from a Cole Porter musical.
Fun and laughter; it's free, it's magical, but it requires effort.I've known so many miserable people.
I have one friend who, whenever I call her, sounds like the somber receptionist at a very busy funeral home.
"Hi, how are you?" I say.
"Oh, I'm working," she says, in a voice ...


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Comment List (Total:9)

  •     I bought this book for vacation reading, expecting something light and humorous. Instead, I found vignettes from the author's life that offered no insight and never got a laugh...
  •     I really liked this book because Veronica Chambers approaches life in a can-do kind of way. Problems, what problems. In a one man's junk is another man's treasure kind of way, Chambers embraces the notion of problems only being problems if you perceive them to be. Her solutions vary but ultimately they come down to learning to be thoughtful, choosing your battles, knowing that this too shall pass and that trouble don't last always. Far from being a treatise on approaching life wearing rose colored glasses, "The Joy of Doing Things Badly" urges us to face life head on and enjoy it.
  •     I was instantly sold on the title of this book before I even held it in my hands. It was everything I expected and more.
  •     This book had a nice flow, but got away from the main topic of the book and spun around to a long drawn out autobiography of her accomplisments.
  •     I believe that the title of this book is misleading and the content does not live up to expectations at all. If I could, I would demand my money back.What I expected in light of the title and other reviews was a light-hearted, witty and clever, perhaps sometimes self-deprecating and mostly amusing look at women's lifes and how we often stand in our own way with our sense of ueber-perfectionism.What I got was a tedious read, and if I were in a nasty mood, I would even go as far as to say it was badly written. Veronica Chambers is trying too hard to be funny, and trust me, it doesn't work. Both, her style and the content did nothing to even remotely endear her to me and most of the time I was simply bored.Maybe it is my fault and I had the wrong expectations, but even bearing that possibility in mind, it still doesn't deliver on the promise in the title.Maybe it wouldn't have been as bad had she given it a title that reflected more of what the book really is: a diary of a woman who doesn't really have an awfult lot to say.Which in itself wouldn't even be that bad, seeing as I have read numerous accounts of women who didn't really have much to say either - but they did so in such a charming, clever, witty and sometimes ironic way that made it possible to connect, or at least be entertained.This book unfortunately does neither.
  •     veronica's book is a delight. wonderful anecdotes. personal failures and triumphs alike. this is an incredibly gratifying read. i didn't want it to end. she is an inspiration.
  •     Perhaps the dramatic difference in these reviews is due to "expectations".I expected to feel better about giving up on becoming perfect, and I do.I enjoyed the references to things being BETTER and more memorable, BECAUSE of their flaws.I didn't expect to have so much FUN reading this book, but I smiled, laughed outloud and heard myself saying,"Why not?" and "I WILL do that!" Veronica points out she has chosen a career path that INVITESrejection and she has not only lived to tell about it,she continues to invite it; not from a martyred perspective but as one accepting it.I found this inspirational. Not everything challenging has to be avoided at all cost; just play through, I learned from her, there is good stuff everywhere.Especially in the JOY of going for it, reached or not.
  •     This book was great company on train rides home. I like the way Chambers gives her wisdom, but admits when she is clueless about something. In the "I did it, so can you" vain, I found some of her advice to be cliched, but she is savvy enough to say, "this is going to sound like a cliche", which reminds us that there are reasons these things stick around: they are true. I've never read any of her fiction, but I will now!
  •     Veronica Chamber's second nonfiction book, The Joy of Doing Things Badly, is essentially about acceptance and living one's life on your own terms. Most of us go through life beating ourselves up for our frailties and faults instead of allowing ourselves to learn from our mistakes gracefully. Chambers presents lessons about love, friendships, relationships and career but most importantly she chronicles the joys and sorrows of coming to a place of her own peace and acceptance of herself.Chambers did not have a happy childhood; however she went to a private college at age sixteen, majored in journalism and has worked for several publications including Glamour and New York Times Magazine. Her career has been a series of ups and downs; an editor once told her she was a bad writer and threw back every idea she pitched. What could have been career suicide for most writers only made her stronger and more determined to do what she needed to overcome that obstacle. It is okay to fall flat on your face, just get up and run faster.How to be happy in one's own skin, when to let go of toxic relationships and learning from financial mishaps read like a road map to personal success. It was fun to read about Chambers extensive travels; how it has enriched her life and how essential it is to keeping her sanity. She paints a picture of content in traveling abroad alone and her positive experience living briefly in JapanThere are a lot of wise saying and thus wisdom dispensed. "There is no shortage of people who will tell you what you can't do, but these same people don't always have a lot of encouraging advice about what you should be 5.and "Too often, we hear compliments about another person, by the same fashion, we do not hear compliments about ourselves at all." pg. 116.Most impressive was how the author, when in her twenties, constructed a book by cutting out pictures of women she admired who were in their 30s and older and writing captions of what she admired most about these women. It was something she could look at occasionally and visualize herself as she worked toward her goals. Most women might find much of the advice ordinary common sense and just living and learning but this is an excellent treatise for younger women in high school, college and those in their twenties to read as they negotiate their journey through life. There is even a Joy newsletter you can obtain by writing to R. WilliamsAPOOO BookClub[...]

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