Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 80
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: April 14, 2015
First Line: "The first thing I'd like to say is 'thank you'."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 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.


My Review:  I remember vaguely hearing that J.K Rowling had spoken at Harvard's commencement years back and my initial thought was "Oh man!  That would have been a speech to remember!" followed quickly by some rather large feelings of envy since I can't even remember who spoke at my commencement.

In this short book people can read her speech to Harvard's class of 2008 where she instills them with some good insight using her signature dry humour and some rather amazing quotes. 

She speaks about the merits of failure in her life so far


“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to 
myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my 
energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in 
the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.”   

Personally, my favourite quote from this speech will be the following: 

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."

She also shares her experiences when she worked for Amnesty International in her early 20's.  She worked with people who had survived horrific experiences and how learning about these experiences changed her.  Real change in the world can start with a single person imagining that it can happen.  Imagination breeds compassion - the more people can use their imaginations, the less violence there will be as we imagine what others have experienced.


"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise."

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."


The book itself is very short (shorter than I would have expected for her speech) and I read it in 20 minutes.  I think anyone, fan of Harry Potter or not, will enjoy and get something out of this speech.  Rowling is undoubtedly well spoken and gives her readers, and especially the grads, a lot to think about.

Note: Readers should know that sales from this book will go to Rowling's international charity, Lumos whose goal is to end the institutionalization of children. Lumos is the perfect name for this charity because, as Harry Potter fans will know, Lumos is the spell from Harry Potter that is used to create light. By using her charity she hopes to bring light and hope to children suffering in institutions worldwide.

My Rating: 5 stars

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