Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K Rowling

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 postgraduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.

This review is going to be a short but sweet one, as this book has left me somewhat lost for words.

This speech  is bound in an 80 page edition, however it is extremely quick to read due to the small amount of text on each page and the  beautiful illustrations interspersed throughout the book. I flew through this in less than half an hour, and as I put it down I teared up a little bit.

This piece was both insightful into Rowling’s past being autobiographical in a sense, and also extremely moving and inspiring. I loved the discussion of failure and how failure is subjective to each and every different person. What Rowling considered her biggest failure may be completely different to you or I’s idea of failure. She argues that failure is what we build the foundations on that lead us to success. Rowling also discusses what imagination is to her and what it can be used for. She reflects on times of her life where she was at her worst and her time at university, or her time working at Amnesty International in London. While drawing on her own experience she creates a beautifully crafted and highly motivational and touching read.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because 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 believe I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

This single passage reduced me to tears. It really hit home to me and I found it extremely easy to relate to. This is but one example of the many quote-worthy pages in this small book. I read this book a few months ago now, and it fell into my lap at a time I needed it most. It changed my perspective on my perception of failure, and more specifically, things which in the past I would have considered failures, but which now I consider blessings in disguise or merely experiences. For such a quick read, this book will provide you with a substantial amount of food for thought.

I would encourage not just all J.K. Rowling fans, but absolutely EVERYBODY to read this.

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