Think you’ve read everything that JKR has published? Think again.
This is one of those books which are near impossible to review. Why? Because this book is so overwhelmingly excellent that I want anyone who picks it up to experience it and love it, but relate to it on their own – and so revealing too much would be contrary to that.
You have to read this book.
At a minuscule 80 pages, some of these taken up by illustration, you’ll be able to read this book in one sitting, and I promise you that you’ll want to do that anyway.
J.K. Rowling delivered the commencement speech to Harvard’s graduating class of 2008, and this half-pint book is her powerful speech in print form. It’s perfectly accompanied by Joel Holland’s illustrations which are quirky and gorgeous. Its title, “Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination” sounds like an undergrad essay that has been submitted with middle-finger attitude, but in reality, it’s the principle that runs through all of the lessons JKR takes us through. Very Good Lives, according to JKR, are made through recognising both statements.
If you’re looking for another Potter-esque masterpiece, this isn’t it. What it is, however, is a tiny book filled with magic, the power of self, and the belief that failure is something that you should own and treasure. More than anything, JKR recommends embracing failure as a gift.
Very Good Lives is an especially inspiring read if you’re at a crossroads or a turning point in life (I’m most definitely at one!). It’s a shrewd reminder that often our biggest successes are born out of our failures, our lowest points. JKR experienced divorce, unemployment, single parenthood, clinical depression, dependence on benefits, and being as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”. However, acknowledging that her biggest fears had been realised, JKR knew that she still had her essentials; her daughter and her creativity.
JKR is not, however, romanticising the poverty or depression she experienced – the ‘rags to riches’ narrative that surrounds her life isn’t one she particularly embraces. She knows that recovering from rock-bottom is not an easy path.
She talks about the criteria for our success and failure that the world hands to us, a sort of checklist that is entrenched in our minds from a very early age. Haven’t you ever been made to feel like there’s a clear distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ routes in life? How often have you been made to feel ashamed for your choices because someone else deems them as misguided or foolish?
Very Good Lives tells us to dare to risk. To dare to fail. To dare be ourselves. Failure is normal and inevitable, but often not accepted or credited as being a legitimate and important part of our development. Through everything, we must accept failure as part of our success.
“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.”
As ever, I am overcome by Jo’s writing and her ability to evoke such raw emotion and realism in the same breath. Funds from the sale of the book go straight to Jo’s charity, Lumos, a charity working to end the institutionalisation of children worldwide. Don’t just take it from me – get yourself the book from here!
Have you read this book, and if so, what did you think? Let me know below!