Stop press! JK Rowling, the author who made our collective childhood that little bit more magical, has published a new book. However, there are no wizards or giant snakes to be found in her latest title. Instead, Very Good Lives is a written version the commencement speech that Rowling gave to the graduating class at Harvard University, 2008. As someone who has just finished her final exams at the University of Warwick and is about to head into the Great Wide Unknown, I thought Rowling’s little book might impart some comfort and advice. And I wasn’t wrong. Very Good Lives is a small but sturdy volume which extols ambition, selflessness and bravery, all with Rowling’s customary clear-sightedness and signature humour.
“I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law, or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.”
The Boy Who Lived actually plays a relatively minor role in this book; instead, Rowling discusses the clash she had with her parents over what degree she should study (practical, sensible law or frivolous English literature), working at Amnesty International and her struggles during years of extreme poverty and hardship. The very experiences, Rowling believes, which enabled her to write what would become the best-selling Potter series. As a newly graduating student, it is both reassuring and motivating to read Very Good Lives, in which Rowling encourages us to use our imaginations to help in whatever way we can.
“We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”
My one complaint was that the content appeared to be spread a little thin. What was essentially a short speech has been sprinkled over about sixty pages, and even with Joel Holland’s simple and striking illustrations, it seems a little insubstantial. I would have liked Rowling to add to her speech, as much because it was interesting to read as to justify its publication fully.
Very Good Lives is a deceptively simple and short read which imparts some big ideas which we could all benefit from, whether we are graduates, students or have never been near a university. Sales from the book benefit Rowling’s charity Lumos (which aims to end institutionalisation for children) and Harvard’s financial aid programme, so this little book has the power to do a lot of good.
xoxo Emily Rose
All photographs taken by me.
Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group for a review copy in exchange for an honest review.