Tag Archives: Inspiration

Book Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling (5/5)

27 Apr

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.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

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.

J.K. Rowling Image via The Telegraph

J.K. Rowling
Image via The Telegraph

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.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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5 Essential, Inspiring Quotes from J.K. Rowling’s ‘Very Good Lives’ | Read a Latte


Novel Girls: Ideas and Sidekicks

2 Oct

This edition of Novel Girls will be slightly different as Nicole and I didn’t come up with anything specific in our writing that we were struggling with, so instead we thought of some good topics to discuss and blog about.

The first is my interpretation of KKs suggestion which was “Empty space is the basis for all good ideas.”  What I want to explore is “Where in our brains do our ideas come from?”

I’ll talk specifically about where my ideas for my WIPs have come from.  For my first WIP, I got the idea from something that bothered me in a book I read (no, this is NOT Fan-fiction and I will explain why).  There were two characters, one a stereotypical good-girl and the other a stereotypical bad-boy, who never interacted in the series for good reasons and were my favorite characters for different reasons.  BUT, this got me thinking and I wondered what could cause two people so drastically different from each other to collaborate and work together.  I created my own stereotypical good girl and bad boy and put them in my own setting.  From there I was able to create a story line that’s all my own and watch my characters come together in the way I imagined.  So, bottom line, I got this idea from trying to read between lines that didn’t exist in a different piece of literature.  I used something that upset me (why the characters couldn’t get along) and created something uniquely my own that I’ve grown to love.  I think things that upset you or make you think in other books/movies/whatever are a good place to start, but a writer has to create their own characters and world.  This is kind of like the movie Finding Forrester where Forrester has Jamal start writing with Forrester’s own words, but then going wherever his own brain took him.  The same words can take people to completely different places.

For my second WIP, I was thinking about the recent trend of YA Dystopian Future novels and how I would write it if it were up to me.  My love of historical fiction kicked in and I thought instead of a Dystopian Past (which I know makes little sense) and how that would play out.  It’s more of an alternative history in a way.  I created a world where there is a social hierarchy that my character is thrust to the top of and has to deal with the consequences of that and also in which there is some serious corruption that she can help unearth and right.  It’s my first foray into Science Fiction at all and has been really enjoyable.

My NaNo story is not YA at all, more of Woman’s Fiction actually.  It’s about a young woman in her 20s who moves to Alaska to take care of her sick grandmother. (There’s a lot more to it, Reader, but I’ll save that for when it’s published and you get to read it.) I got this idea from a prompt I did in my Tuesday Prompt Group which was surprisingly “It tasted blue.”  I’ve gotten almost completely away from the original prompt, but the idea got stuck in my head.

So there are my three current ideas and where I got them; something that bothered me I couldn’t get out of my head, thinking about a genre and how I would tackle it, and a prompt.  Where do you get your ideas for stories?  How did you think of your NaNo plot for this year or in years past? Leave a comment and let me know, maybe you’ll give me another great idea!

The second topic that I’ll explore was something Nicole suggested: sidekicks.  Why do we need sidekicks and what are their various uses?  I can talk about my sidekicks and some of my favorite sidekicks as some examples.  Reader, please chime in with your own and your favorites as well.

My first WIP has two sidekicks, one for each of my protagonists.  My female protagonist has a male best friend who is her sidekick.  His purposes are various, from giving her an outlet for her thoughts that the reader would otherwise not know to being a voice of reason who gets her to realize when she needs to take action and also giving her self confidence that she might not have otherwise.  I really think my story would be incomplete without him.

My male protagonist has a male friend who serves as his sidekick.  His purpose is a little more vague and I’ve considered re-writing him out but ultimately vetoed the idea.  This sidekick serves to make my protagonist more likable.  If the stereotypical bad boy can’t even hold a real friend, why would anyone want to be close to him?  By giving him a friend, who fights for him and gives him a single person he can actually open up to, my protagonist has qualities that would make him the kind of person worth talking to.

My second WIP has one sidekick to my protagonist, Hope.  Her sidekick helps guide her through the world she has been forced into and will be her partner in crime as she searches for answers.  As I haven’t finished yet, I haven’t completely flushed out his role (any suggestions are welcome).

I said I’d talk about my favorite sidekick as well.  Well, being a huge Harry Potter fan, I’m going to talk about the lovely Hermione Granger.  She adds a lot to the series that make it as wonderful and well-rounded as it is.  I think the most obvious is the feminine touch.  Rowling took a lot on to write from a man’s perspective and has admitted that she interjected herself into Hermione.  I think Hermione helps the series appeal to girls from the very beginning when a story about a young male wizard might not have been as tempting.  Also, Hermione’s logic and intelligence allow Harry to be the reckless youth we all love while still behaving in a logical and thoughtful manor.  His recklessness sometimes gets him in trouble and sometimes leads him through to conquer his foes so he couldn’t get by without it.  However, with Hermione, he also behaves logically instead of impulsively when needed.  Think of The Prisoner of Azkaban scenes during the time turner to get an idea of what I mean.

So, Reader, I’ll leave you with a few questions about sidekicks to ponder and leave comments about.  What is the primary purpose of a sidekick?  Tell me about your sidekicks and how they help your protagonist on his/her journey.  Who are your favorite sidekicks and why?  What purpose do they serve?

Thanks for reading and take care!  Please leave a comment so we can start a dialogue.