Book Review

Commencement Speeches as Books: A Review

81nZUIsmL5L._SL1500_Today is the day that J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, is published by Little, Brown and Company. This is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Philadelphia University of the Arts speech, Make Good Art, and its publication with William Morrow. Both speeches are available as transcripts with accompanying YouTube videos. I gave both speeches a rating of five stars each on Goodreads.

The books can become keepsakes, collectibles, or gifts for the recent graduate in your life. The covers of both books are intriguing and captivating, though I will not be writing about the inside art, since I read the transcripts of both speeches online. Unfortunately, my budget did not allow for the purchase of either book at this moment, though I am pleased to hear that the proceeds of Very Good Lives will go to Rowling’s organization Lumos.

In my opinion, commencement speeches should be regularly published in serialized collections. Commencement speeches are powerful, and graduates need to hear them. I am happy to see that Rowling’s and Gaiman’s speeches are available, but I am also interested in reading speeches such as my alma mater’s 1991 commencement. (Note that I know nothing about this particular year’s commencement; I’m using a random time frame to illustrate my point.) Or, I would like to see a single collection of commencement speeches from well-known individuals, such as Rowling and Gaiman.


Gaiman’s speech is inspiring, and something every artist needs to hear. Listening to the inflections in his voice really defines the passion that is needed behind any art. Rowling’s speech is hopeful and enlightening. Listening to the YouTube video, her voice is calming. Both speeches acknowledge the trials and tribulations of life, but how one also has the power to overcome them, no matter the field. These words are moving for not just the graduate, but for those who may need a reminder that life can be inspiring and full of hope.

I would love to hold these books in my hands someday, or at least scroll through them on my Kindle. Until then, I will read and reread the transcripts, and watch and re-watch the videos. I highly recommend these books to anyone, no matter the stage of life or creative process.

Both pictures from Amazon.


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