Friday, February 24, 2017

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

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I almost didn't pick up Books for Living thinking to myself Oh, dear, more recommendations for my already overly long TBR list. But now I am glad I did. (Always listen to your inner reader!)

In the opening essay, the author Will Schwalbe begins with the story of a recurring nightmare: He is ready to board a plane and realizes he doesn't have a book to read. Even as his name is being called over the loudspeaker, he races around the airport looking for a bookstore or newsstand  But as this is a nightmare he cannot find a single book in the airport. He is going to miss his plane. He wakes up in a sweat.

I can understand his feeling of terror. I knew he and I would get along. 

The books that Mr. Schwalbe writes about are ones that have helped him in some way make sense of the world. That helped him become a better person. That provided answers to some of life's Big Questions.

He admits: "Some of these are not works I would list among my favorite books, but they are all books that I found (or that found me) when I needed them, or that prompted me to remember something, realize something, or see my life and the world differently."

So, in order to Slow Down and escape our modern world with all its distractions, he turns to Chinese author Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living. It is actually his go-to book for most everything and he refers to it quite often in other essays.  For the importance of Napping he takes lessons from novelist Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea reminds him of the need to Retreat and Recharge. 

For a different sort of travel book, Mr. Schwalbe turns to A Journey Around My Room written in 1790 by a young French officer, Xavier de Maistre, who was sentenced to 42 days house arrest for some infraction. With nothing else to do he wrote a guidebook to his room -- its chairs and tables and desk -- which eventually allows him to muse about war, friendships, and loss.  

As you can see these are not the typical books one would usually find in a volume such as this. Each book considered addresses a different aspect of life. Some joyful; some painful. And the list is not made up entirely of nonfiction books. He includes among others Rebecca (Betrayal), 1984 (Disconnecting), and Stuart Little (Searching). I have to love a list that includes Stuart Little

Mr. Schwalbe truly loves his books and reading and it shows on every page. I was touched by the stories of what these books meant to him at different times in his life. How they brought him comfort, sparked a memory, or helped him grieve the loss of a friend. 

I quite like Mr. Schwalbe and think how nice it would be to sit down and chat with him about books. There is a lot to ponder here. This one is definitely worth reading.  


  1. Somehow I missed this post when you first put it up, but I'm glad I found it now. This is just the type of book I would enjoy, though like you I'm wary of reading books that are likely to add to my impossibly large TBR list. Mr. Schwalbe's nightmare is a nightmare, indeed! I can't imagine being stuck on an airplane with nothing to read!

    1. Yes, Kathy, I think you would enjoy this one. It is part memoir, part philosophy, part joy of reading. It was nice to find a book about books that offers some different ideas. Try it. You'll like it.