Sunday, August 16, 2015

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Title:  Very Good Lives:  The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Publication Information:  Little, Brown, and Company. 2015. 80 pages.
ISBN:  0316369152 / 978-0316369152

Book Source:  I found this book while browsing at my local library.

Opening Sentence:  "President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and above all, graduates."

Favorite Quote:  "We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already:  we have the power to imagine better."

What J.K. Rowling writes, I tend to read. Or in this case, when she speaks, I listen. My children grew up with the magical world of Harry Potter. We read all the books together, and we watched all the movies together. Many times over. Even now, we revisit both often. Even now, we finds words of wisdom hidden behind the magic and adventure. For those precious childhood memories, J.K. Rowling will always be a part of our family's history.

So, when I found this book while browsing at the library, I immediately checked it out. This book is essentially a transcript of the commencement address J.K. Rowling delivered at Harvard University in 2008. The address was published in a hardcover book form this year - $15 for a short book with only a couple of thousand words.

Why the price tag and why would you pay for text you can read or find in a video you can watch online? According to the dust jacket, the proceeds from the sale benefit Lumos, a charity founded by J.K. Rowling to benefit disadvantaged children. Some of the proceeds support the financial aid program at Harvard. I am guessing this is because the speech was after all delivered at Harvard. According to the publisher website, ninety percent of the proceeds go to Lumos and ten percent to Harvard financial aid. Harry Potter fans will of course recognize the "lumos" reference, a spell to light up a want and spread a warm light. An appropriate name for a charity to bring some relief to the lives of children.

The address is, as you would expect, inspirational for graduates and a reminder for all of us about choosing our path. As the title suggests, the key tenets of the message are failure and imagination. Failure becomes a way to learn and to move forward. Imagination gives us the power to see beyond failure and lights our way forward. Not new ideas but sound advice. Even if you decide not to purchase the book, read or listen to the address.

Based on content alone, it's hard to publish an entire book with only the text of a commencement address. To give this book some volume, the text is divided into short snippets, a few sentences a page. Each accompanying page includes an illustration by Joel Holland. Joel Holland's portfolio includes illustrations, hand lettering, and other book covers. The illustrations in this book are simply presented, using only three colors - black, white, and red. Many illustrations are also literal, picking up on a word or a phrase from the text. For example, one page has red boxes with white edges wrapped in a black ribbon to pick up on the word "gift." A simple black grid is on a page that talks about "prisoners." I would love to find information on the artistic choices made for this book; I tried researching it but cannot find any information at all. To me, the simplicity of the illustrations and and their direct relationship to the words keeps the focus on the words, which is as it should be. The illustrations serve their purpose of provide a charming packing in which to present the words.

I am so glad I discovered the book at the library. I look forward to getting my own copy and, once again, sharing J.K. Rowling's words with my children.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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