Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

23731881Book: Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling, Joel Holland (Illustrations) | Goodreads
Release Date: April 14th, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought

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.

Given that for many of us, college applications are a reality and admissions (and rejections) are right around the corner, I decided to pick up and review J.K. Rowling’s famous Harvard commencement speech. While this 80-page book is expensive – $15 in the U.S. – I do think it’s a more enjoyable experience to read Rowling’s speech in book form rather than online in the public domain. Additionally, the proceeds of this little book go both to Rowling’s Lumos charity for ending the institutionalization of children and to Harvard University’s financial aid program.

I found that I love J.K. Rowling’s message in Very Good Lives. I didn’t know exactly what to expect going into it, but I thought she had some really good points. Rowling emphasizes the value of doing what you love, but also stresses that those who are fortunate enough to receive an education have “unique status and responsibilities.” Political activism, human rights advocation, and empathy for the powerless are both the privileges and burdens of the powerful, the educated. Rowling also stressed that failure can be good. It sounds crazy in a simple sentence, but her elaborations and personal anecdotes –  like how she wrestled with poverty for years as a single mom before Harry Potter took off – really bring this truth to light.

My favorite portion of the speech is as follows:

Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not empathize enable real monsters. For without ever colluding an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.

I most definitely recommend that anyone of any age read this speech because it truly is life-changing. It gave me some much needed perspective on the college admissions process and my not-so-distant future as an adult.

”I wish you all very good lives. Thank you very much.” 

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