One of the perks of my job is that I get to see books before they go on the shelves. So when I saw a book pass through by the Harry Potter series creator, J. K. Rowling, I had to snatch it up.

Very Good Lives by J.K. RowlingI honestly didn’t even pay attention to the title or description of Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination until I cracked the book open at home one night. What I found was a commencement address delivered to the Harvard Class of 2008. I don’t remember the speech delivered at my high school or college graduations, but I found her speech very poignant and the points that she made have stuck with me over the past couple of weeks.

Like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty she wishes three things for the Class of 2008: failure, imagination, and good friendships.

Failure you say?

Rowling wrote that if she hadn’t found herself at rock bottom, she might not have realized that she could survive and thrive. She might never have reached her full potential: she’s written what could arguably called one of the best children’s series of all time, she’s richer than the Queen of England, and she is incredibly humble.


Rowling said it gives you the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without having to have lived through their experiences. She worked in the African research department at Amnesty International where she heard all sorts of horror stories about torture, executions, kidnappings and rape.

“The power of human empathy leading to collective action saves lives,” she wrote.

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places,” she continued, saying how deeply the experience affected her and influenced her work on the Potter series.

However, some people refuse to exercise their imagination, preferring to remain comfortably ignorant.

“Without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.”


Her last wish to those students about to step forth into the “real world” is lasting friendships; people who will be with you in good times and bad.

After having read this short work, I admire Rowling more. Her perseverance, her humbleness, her kindness, and her imagination are all qualities that I strive to possess. And my friends? And my friendships, I can assure you that all my lasting relationships have met these criteria.

I highly recommend this quick read. I know that this is a book that I will pick up again whenever I am feeling low or need some inspiration.

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading section on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Rebecca H.