Book Reviews: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

If you haven’t figured out that I’m a fan of J.K. Rowling, you either haven’t been paying attention or you’ve missed a lot of posts. Don’t worry; I’ll catch you up. I’ve looked up to Rowling for as long as I can remember. It goes without saying that I love Harry Potter. That series is one of the rocks of my life that will never go away, along with Disney, my parents, my pets (past, present, and future), reading, and writing. More importantly, I have drawn a lot of strength from Rowling’s life story. It keeps me going in the hopes that I will be able to write my own life story as well as she has written hers. That’s why I was absolutely ecstatic when Very Good Lives was published.

Image retrieved from Amazon

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination is the official publication of Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University. I would describe this very short tome as an inspirational narrative which draws on aspects of memoirs and self-help books.

With Rowling’s signature humor and captivating accounts from her life after graduation, Very Good LivesĀ is the perfect book to keep on your nightstand. A quick read, witty, I read all 80 pages one morning before getting out of bed.

The main lesson from this speech is to use your failures to build yourself up. We all know that Rowling had hit rock bottom before finishing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She explains that whether we’ve hit rock bottom as she did or just had a string of minor failures, we can use these failures to learn what not to do, point ourselves in the right direction, and learn what we really want out of life.

The secondary lesson, as the title implies, is the importance of imagination in our lives and the world. Most notably, Rowling discusses how we can use imagination to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. No better person to get such advice from than a woman who once worked with immigrants then went on to write books that positively impact people’s views of ostracized groups.

I’m not afraid to say that I have dealt with a lot of depression and anxiety since I graduated from university. I’m a struggling–and otherwise only employed through freelance work–writer living with her parents to save money. (No one should be ashamed if they live with their parents. Humans are social animals by nature and it’s a great way to save while paying back student loans so long as your parents are OK with it.) I don’t always feel good about myself, especially when I can’t find a job.

Rowling’s Very Good Lives has helped me to pull myself back from the abyss of self-loathing. Perhaps I’ve failed by my own standards but I have also succeeded. I can learn from my failures and use them as the foundation on which I continue to build my successes. Rowling’s book/speech helped me to realize this and is one of the reasons I was able to convince myself to apply for my Master’s program, launch this blog, join Fiverr, and, most importantly, keep writing even when nothing I write seems publishable.

The illustrations are beautifully simplistic. Like the letters on the cover, they are solid red images dancing across and at the edges of the white pages. Each illustration matches the text occupying the same page and distracts from the white space without detracting from the message.

Image retrieved from Amazon

Some Amazon reviews have complained about the fact that they could just look the speech up online and not pay for the physical copy. I don’t know about now but when I bought the book two years ago, the proceeds went to charity. Again, I can’t say if that’s the situation now.

So why bother to buy this book if you can look up the speech online and the proceeds may or may not still go to charity? Well, that’s a matter of personal preference. I prefer paper copies over anything electronic, whether it be an e-book, a Word doc, a PDF file, or a web page. A paper copy also allows you to read without the distractions of social media and the Internet.

I only know where you can buy a paper copy or the e-book. If you know where people can find the speech online without violating copyright, please post a link in the comments for other readers.

Overall, Very Good Lives is uplifting and inspiring. I would recommend it for everyone, even if you’re not currently going through hard times or you don’t like Rowling’s work. In each life some rain falls and this book is like a towel; it won’t prevent you from getting wet during the storm but it’ll help you wipe off the drops left behind.

To buy a copy of Very Good Lives, follow the link below:

For more information on J.K. Rowling, be sure to visit her official website.

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Do you know of any books I should read and discuss? Would you like me to review your published book on this blog? Contact me at with your recommendations or hire me on Fiverr. I accept book review requests through my “review your book on my blog” gig and as custom orders.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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