Wednesday Book Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Trigger Warnings: Mentions rape once, give no details.

Regardless of how you feel about J.K. Rowling, which in my case varies daily, sometimes you can find nuggets of gold in her writing. While I don’t agree with her on a fundamental level, I will tend to still read her books if I can find them used or at the library. My thoughts are, she’s already made enough money to never need again, so if I can find something of use in her words I will. So when I found this short book at my local library I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I am so glad that I did.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling is another short read I’ve decided to review for you guys. (For those of who have ADHD short reads are sometimes the best.) This book is a speech Rowling delivered to a Harvard Graduating class, which was then published to help raise money for her charity Lumos. I love reading inspiring speeches and this one touched on a few amazing topics that I think everyone should hear.

First J.K. Rowling talks about the lesson of failure and how it can teach you about yourself. Seven years after her own graduation she was a jobless, single mother, doing the best she could to keep from being homeless. Her marriage had exploded and she was living a life of poverty that she had never understood before. 

“I was the biggest failure I knew.”

But from this failure, she found hope in herself. She realized just how strong-willed she was and how many friends she actually had. During this time, she also decided that she would finally become the famous author we know today.

The next lesson she teaches us is the importance of imagination. Not in the sense of creating a world of wizards, but of imagination that comes in the form of empathy. Before Harry Potter, she worked for a company called Amnesty International.

“Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have.”

During her time with Amnesty, she witnessed hundreds of cases of torture, kidnapping, and rape. She saw the darkest part of humanity, but she also saw the brightest. She realized that humans have this amazing gift, this power to imagine someone else’s pain, even though they had never been through the same pain themselves.

I love the passion in her speech and the power behind her words. I’m so glad that they decided to publish this and that I got the chance to read it! I found this book inspiring and plan to read it again the next time I feel like a failure.

Wednesday Book Review Unworthy By Anneli Rufus

Unworthy: How to stop hating yourself by Anneli Rufus

My rating: 2.5/5 stars

Book trigger warnings:

There are mentions of rape, child molestation, abuse, and suicide. They never go into detail but they are there.

Unworthy is marketed as a self help book that will teach you how to stop hating yourself. Here the author Anneli Rufus takes us through her life of self hate and shows us how to dig out of this hole and how to stop being so hard on ourselves. Or at least, that’s what the goal of this book was. There are some really good parts to this book, but overall I was not impressed.

The first thing I noticed was how deeply I related to her when she spoke about her mother. It was like reading the pages from my own story, but from the mindset of an only child. Early in to the book I learned that she suspects her mother of having BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), which my Mother was diagnosed with before I was even born. I loved that she shared this part of herself with me because it really opened up a new outlook for my past that I had never thought of before. She speaks of her Mother with love and understanding, even though Anneli knows that she was the cause for her self esteem issues. She forgives her mother and loves her anyways, which is a skill I am consistently trying to learn.

The next thing I noticed was that Anneli was openly writing from a place of self hate. While I loved this approach as first, finding comfort in the relatability of the text, it lost it’s appeal the deeper I got. It went from “we’re in this together” to “look at how miserable I am.” The second and third chapters, personality flaws and self-esteem booby traps, are full of great advice, if you can weed through the endless amount of quotes and self hate. It’s wouldn’t be that big of a deal, if they didn’t take up the bulk of the book.

At the beginning of this story I felt like I had my own personal self-esteem warrior, clad in armor and ready to fight by my side as she lead me into the world of not hating myself. But towards the end it’s felt like the blind leading the blind. Like I was stuck in an endless Facebook feed of #selfcare quotes and tumbler screen shots. Every once in a while you’ll find some jewels, but most of it’s just negative garbage.

The other issue I have is that she refers to auto-phobia as the fear of one’s self. While that is the literal translation, it is more commonly known as the fear of being alone. If anyone reading her book tried to look up auto-phobia for more information they would find a different problem, though I feel both of these fears work together at times. I wish she had a short sentence starting “also known as” just to help clear up some information for her everyday readers.

Chapter 4 is where she loses me completely. In this chapter, The Upside to Low Self-Esteem, Anneli takes a positive twist to her narrative. She talks about all the good that comes from having low self-esteem and the lessons that we can learn from it. While I do agree with this, her approach angers me. She starts off the chapter by judging a woman on the bus with her, stating “The strappy skintight top and short shorts she’s wearing do not flatter her. I think she does not realize this.” She talks about how this woman is entitled and clearly thinks she’s better than everyone else on the bus. It does not occur to her at maybe this woman is overcompensating, having a bad day, or has a mental illness that she’s not being treated for. No, the only thing she sees is a woman talking loudly on the phone, dressed in slutty clothes.

She keeps with this holier than thou attitude through the rest of the chapter as she goes on to talk about how entitled Millennials are. How this high self-esteem kick has lead us to be more selfish, help other’s less, and generally not care about “social problems, current events, or energy conservation.” Honestly, I am very biased and completely disagree with her.However, even if this was the case I do not like the fact that she is putting down other people to prove a point. If this is the bright side to low self-esteem I’ve been doing things wrong my whole life.

However, my favorite chapter is the last. Here she goes back to the same tone she used in the first chapter, but instead of your defender she’s that friend you go to after a hard break up. She’s sitting there with ice cream and rum telling you “It’s okay to hurt and it will be get better with time.” If you read no other chapter in this book I do encourage you to read the last, just as a simple reminder that it’s okay to not be okay. That there is no rush to getting better, no rush to stop hating yourself. That baby steps are the way to go and that some day, you’ll be okay.

There is some really good information in this book and it helped me get a better understanding of myself along the way. I do like how honest Anneli was about her own mental health problems and I feel like parts of this book would be great for a blog or a memoir. Sadly, this falls flat as a self help book. There are some useful tips and advice scattered through out, but you could easily find this same information in a less judgmental way. If you are great at reading between the lines, or just like this style of writing, feel free… but I highly recommending skipping chapter 4 completely.