I’m so glad I knew about this book. I saw it on Pinterest and didn’t know when it was coming out. Then fellow book blogger Read A Latte posted about it and I knew it was available at Barnes & Noble. So during an Educator Appreciate Event, I made my husband come with me so I could grab this and a few others at 25% off (reason to marry a teacher!). I felt like a stud because the buy at the register hadn’t seen it yet. Epic win.
Summary from Goodreads:
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?
Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.
As the description says, this is a speech and it is a very short book. I don’t want to misrepresent that. I read the whole thing in about a half hour. But that’s not to diminish its value. This is a really great book and a good read. J.K. Rowling is my writing icon and knowing how much she went through to get to where she is now is very motivating to someone aspiring after what she’s done. I liked that this was a speech to college graduates. When I was about to graduate college, I was a very different person than who I am now, a short 3 years later. Rowling recognized that in these students and the speech was perfect for the audience.
A lot of the questions I use to guide my reviews are not relevant because of the format of this book so my review will be brief. I could relate to Rowling’s definitions of failure. There have been times that I’ve been down on my luck and known that in someone else’s eyes, I was a failure. But that doesn’t mean I had to brand myself in the same way. Rowling never let society’s definition of failure hold her back and I think this has helped her flourish. She talked about how friends helped her when she needed them most and I think that there is no success without the support of others. That’s why you always see lists of people thanked in the back of books and hear as many names as possible in acceptance speeches. We all achieve with our network.
Rowling talked about how her experience and time working at Amnesty International shaped her opinions and feelings on many things. For me, this confirmed that her books are about oppression from someone, perhaps an African warlord, and having the strength to stand up and say something. I’ve compared Voldemort to Hitler but maybe she was thinking of Theoneste Bagosora, one of the orchestrators of the Rwandan Genocide. To me, this confirms that her books are aimed at ending racial or ethnic hate among people. I was really glad to read this.
Rowling had two main messages which are spelled out in the subtitle of the book, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. I’ve already talked about her section on failure, but I want to comment on her remarks regarding imagination. She’s not talking about all of us being able to write stories about magical wizards and orphans changing the world. Rowling says that with an exercised imagination, humans are able to imagine what others are feeling and why they are acting in a certain way. Imagine enables us to empathize with other humans. Here’s is my favorite quote from the book,
…those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.
I am in love with this quote. I have a new one to live by.
Writer’s Takeaway: I would love it if I were one day asked to make a commencement speech at Harvard. I would hope that I’m able to come up with such wonderful lessons as what Rowling was able to impart in her words. She used good anecdotes to get her message across and did it in a short amount of time. Bravo, Ms. Rowling!
A wonderful book. I only wish it hadn’t taken 7 years to make it to print. A full 5 out of 5 Stars.
Until next time, write on.