J.K. Rowling's commencement address, Very Good Lives, makes a perfect graduation gift! J.K. Rowling's wise words on the importance of failure & imagination.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling – a perfect graduation gift!

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling – a perfect graduation gift!

I received this book for free from Library for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Publication Date: Apr. 14, 2015
Pages: 80
Format: Hardcover
Indie Bookstores

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“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 post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.”

My Thoughts:

I saw Very Good Lives in the library, knew it was J.K. Rowling’s commencement address and just had to pick it up. Maybe it’s Fate, Destiny or simply Magic that I am able to read this book on the day my oldest son completes middle school. The same son who I was pregnant with when the Twin Towers came crashing down and whose aunt read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to us while I was pregnant with him and on bedrest. The same son who started “reading” flashcards when he was an hour old and has an even more insatiable appetite for books than I.

I love J.K. Rowling’s writing as much as the next and after 7 spectacular Harry Potter books, I expect to be awed every time I pick up her books. Honestly, Silkworm disappointed me, but Very Good Lives was every bit as amazing as Harry Potter in a concise and inpsiring way. Think the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore + sweet illustrations and you get Very Good Lives

We learn about Rowling’s college career, her failures and how “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” When there’s nowhere to go but up, Rowling pursued the only job she ever wanted and the rest is history. How can we succeed without failure? I will remember more of J.K. Rowling’s commencement address than I do of my own, seriously I can’t remember the guy’s name. Very Good Lives makes a PERFECT graduation present and one I will buy for our house and reread every time I need a pick me up.


Favorite Quotes:

Do I have to pick just one? I think I spent more time writing down the quotes I love than the time it took me to read this book! 

“Failure means a stripping away of the inessential.”

“You will never know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.”

“We do not need magic to transform our world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”


Books Like This You Might Enjoy:

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom – 5*, a short and easy read full of inspiration

Power Your Happy by Lisa Sugar + 3 Ways to Find YOUR Passion in Life

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness & Start Living an Awesome Life* by Jen Sincero


What books do you think make great graduation gifts? What do you remember from commencement addresses you’ve seen? What failures have inspired you the most. Let me know and join the conversation. As always, happy reading! 


    1. It was wonderful. An easy read for those days when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and overwhelmed. You’re welcome, thanks for commenting!

  1. What a lovely gift idea, thanks for the review. My kids are all massive HP fans (so am I for that matter), reading them aloud as bedtime stories was one of the best things we’ve ever done, even though all the kids were old enough to read on their own by then. My oldest is due to graduate Uni next year, I will look this one out for then.

    1. You’re welcome Julie. My oldest and I are massive HP fans too. I am trying to get my 8 year old to read it. He’s seen the movies and didn’t really care for them so he has no desire to read them. But he loves to read and I think he’d love it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. What a timely post! I just gave this book to the daughter of good friends for her college graduation – she grew up with Harry Potter books and is an avid reader so I thought it would be perfect for her.

    And I just asked our friends (her parents) the same question this weekend – only one of the four of us could remember who gave our commencement addresses (and that was Bill Watterson, cartoonist who did Calvin & Hobbes!).

    These are my other favorite graduation gift books, that I gave to the recent graduate’s older sister:


    And for boys, I favor F in Exams, a book our own son LOVED – it is hilarious, amde up of real life test answers that are so wrong but so funny!

    Great post!


    2015 Big Book Summer Challenge

    1. Thanks for all the great recommendations, I love giving books as gifts, I think that’s what I’m giving my kids, nieces and nephews from now on. Superhubby will give them a toy and I handle the books! 🙂

      1. Me, too!! I LOVE to give books as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, any excuse! I almost never buy books for myself, but I love to buy them for other people – and receive them myself! Best gifts 🙂


    1. Yes! My non-reader husband finished in 15 minutes. I wish I had her speak at my graduation but she was still probably getting the first HP published back then! 🙂

  3. I didn’t realize she had a published commencement address! I do think she has an interesting story…I remember hearing how she wrote Harry Potter when she was down and out. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Yes, her story is quite inspiring. Got to hit rock bottom to see what you’re made of. I wonder if I’m too old for a career change. My dream is to get paid to read books, think we can make this come true? 🙂

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