Books for Living
by Will Schwalbe

Overview - From the author of the beloved New York Times best-selling The End of Your Life Book Club, an inspiring and magical exploration of the power of books to shape our lives in an era of constant connectivity.
Why is it that we read?

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More About Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
From the author of the beloved New York Times best-selling The End of Your Life Book Club, an inspiring and magical exploration of the power of books to shape our lives in an era of constant connectivity.
Why is it that we read? Is it to pass time? To learn something new? To escape from reality? For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, to become a better person, and to find the answers to the big (and small) questions about how to live his life. In this delightful celebration of reading, Schwalbe invites us along on his quest for books that speak to the specific challenges of living in our modern world, with all its noise and distractions. In each chapter, he discusses a particular book--what brought him to it (or vice versa), the people in his life he associates with it, and how it became a part of his understanding of himself in the world. These books span centuries and genres (from classic works of adult and children's literature to contemporary thrillers and even cookbooks), and each one relates to the questions and concerns we all share. Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we've loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully. Rich with stories and recommendations, Books for Living is a treasure for everyone who loves books and loves to hear the answer to the question: "What are you reading?"

  • ISBN-13: 9780385353540
  • ISBN-10: 0385353545
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
  • Publish Date: December 2016
  • Page Count: 272
  • Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.96 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Family & Relationships > Death, Grief, Bereavement
Books > Literary Criticism > Books & Reading

BookPage Reviews

Well Read: The wisdom of books

Will Schwalbe charmed many readers with The End of Your Life Book Club, a memoir of time spent reading with and to his mother in her final days. Schwalbe’s thoughtful and diverting follow-up to that bestseller, Books for Living, offers another highly personal expedition through the art of reading. In 26 short chapters, he shares insights garnered from a lifetime of reading, finding lessons in books for cultivating and embracing the qualities needed for a well-lived life.

Schwalbe has catholic tastes—“there is no book so bad that you can’t find anything in it of interest,” he professes—and his reading list is broad, ranging from classics such as David Copperfield and 1984 to recent bestsellers to more obscure volumes of poetry and even children’s books. His selections are not meant to be prescriptive, but rather a sampling of books that have helped him navigate through life and, hence, might be of interest to others who seek wisdom rather than mere entertainment in what they read. 

Not surprisingly, some of the clearest messages Schwalbe finds reside in books that are themselves “message” books: The Little Prince on friendship, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea on retreating and recharging, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird on sensitivity. These are perennial sellers precisely because they offer timeless philosophies for living. More interesting is when Schwalbe digs deeper to root out less apparent interpretations. “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” he suggests, provides permission to set aside external (and internal) expectations and discontinue certain pursuits for no reason other than we would prefer not to. He points out that Stuart Little teaches us that life is a journey without a neat and tidy ending, and makes the compelling, if not fully fleshed-out, argument that The Odyssey shows us that mediocrity does not necessarily equal failure.

Schwalbe’s reading triggers deeply honest, often raw memories of departed friends and mentors, of past mistakes, or prompts the acknowledgement of personal foibles. In these poignant passages, Books for Living can take on a melancholy air, effective as memoir, if less so as literary inquiry. The connection between Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and the perceived betrayal of a troublesome friendship, for instance, is never really made. And, most frustratingly, when Schwalbe holds up Song of Solomon as a work of greatness to be admired (an evaluation with which I wholeheartedly concur), he fails to offer specifics to back up that claim. 

By its very nature, though, a book such as this one needs to be personal and revealing because its true purpose is not to tell us what Schwalbe has read but to spark our own connections with what we have read and will read. Books for Living is not meant to offer a fixed reading list (although readers may certainly want to turn or return to some of Schwalbe’s suggestions). It offers a way of reading itself. Particularly now, in our always-plugged-in, noisy world, it is easy to forget that while information is all around us, knowledge is often harder to acquire. We turn to books out of curiosity and the hope that they will teach us something and delight us, Schwalbe says, adding, “Good books often answer questions you didn’t even know you wanted to ask.”


This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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