“A book with career advice”. I was seriously dreading this Category. The career books I’ve read, or have tried to read, have been painfully dull. I’m not interested in a career move, and I’m not interested in career advice.
As I passed the halfway mark in the 2017 Reading Challenge, I still had no idea which book I’d read for this Category. With an attitude of “Well, I have to get this out of the way, somehow” I started doing internet searches. The career books I found were all around 300 pages long. That’s a lot of pages for a book I didn’t want to read.
Last year, it was “A political memoir” that I was dreading. I fulfilled it with The Motorcycle Diaries, a book I actually enjoyed. Although it’s technically a travel journal, it outlined the motivations behind Che Guevara’s future political path – which made it a political memoir. I thought I could find something along those same lines – not specifically a career advice book, but that still contained career advice. Internet searches weren’t helping, so I figured the best way to find such a book would be to use the Seattle Public Library’s “Ask a librarian” feature.
Before I got around to asking a librarian, however, I somehow stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for.
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, by J.K. Rowling, was published in 2015.
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered the commencement address at Harvard University. The text of that address was published as a book named Very Good Lives. Sales of the book benefit Lumos, a charity founded by J.K. Rowling to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.
Very Good Lives is less than 70 pages long. I read it in one evening, and then read it again.
In the book, J.K. Rowling makes frequent references to the world of Harry Potter, which is fair, since that was probably why she was invited to deliver the commencement address.
“What I feared most at your age was not poverty but failure.” She writes of her “epic failure” seven years after her own graduation – a single mother, a failed marriage, unemployed, and “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless”. She explains how that failure showed her who she truly was, and what was truly important in her life. Without that failure, she writes, she may have never succeeded at what she was meant to be.
“Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts – that is something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.”
She writes at length about a day job she had prior to the success of the Harry Potter books. It was a job that influenced not only her books, but herself as well.
She “paid her rent” by working at the African research department of Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. She read notes smuggled out of totalitarian regimes, written by those imprisoned and/or tortured. She saw photographs and read eyewitness testimonies. She met people who escaped, and who chose to lead better lives than those of their captors. It still gives her nightmares, but also taught her more about human kindness than she had ever known.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s lives.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate or control just as much as to understand or sympathize.
Her advice to the graduating class of 2008 was to use your imagination and your intelligence. If you imagine yourself in the lives of the powerless, you will transform the realities of millions of people.
She ends with a quote from Seneca: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”
There. I got this Category out of the way, and I found a wonderful, inspiring book that I loved.
- A book with career advice
(You may have noticed that, ever since I wrote about how difficult it was to find a book with a subtitle, subtitled books have been finding me.)