Books for Living

Publisher: Knopf
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?”

READ AN EXCERPT

Introduction 

From time to time I have a terrifying dream. I call it the Reader’s Nightmare. 

I’m in a busy airport, and they’ve announced my flight. There is an epic walk to the gate, and I know I have only a few minutes before they will close the door to the jetway and my...
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READING GUIDE

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation about Books for Living, bestselling author Will Schwalbe’s engaging meditation on the power of reading and literature. 

1. Discuss the significance of the George R. R...

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PRAISE FOR

“In Books for Living the brilliant Will Schwalbe takes us on a personal journey through a life of reading. But like any great journey, it is far more than an accumulation of miles, or words. Books for Living is a map, a chart, to the places deep inside ourselves where books can take us. It’s about how stories, how characters, inspire us, guide us, reveal us. Books For Living is now one of my favorite reads of all time, and I know I will revisit it over and over. But be warned. It’s also quite an expensive book to read since I kept calling my local bookseller and ordering the volumes Will mentions in each chapter. This is a beautiful, powerful, warm, funny, awe-inspiring odyssey. An absolutely astonishing gift to all of us who have spent our lives loving books.” —Louise Penny

“There are many folks we love…but the first are in books we took to bed when we were sneaking our flashlights under our blankets to enjoy the last few words. These will probably not be our last love under blankets but the first to teach us to trust. Books for Living encourages us to pull those quilts up to warm us and to teach us to express our hopes and dreams…with a kind universe smiling on us this will only be our first…not our last lesson in comforting…exciting…exploring words.” —Nikki Giovanni

“Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living is a scintillating look at the places books take us. And the books! From The Odyssey to The Girl on the Train, The Little Prince to Reading Lolita in Tehran, with stops in places well-traveled and completely unexpected, Schwalbe uncovers lessons in and around books, including lessons that have nothing to do with the content of the reading. A profound, engaging exploration of the uses to which we put the books of our lives.” —Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor

“Why do we read and what is to be found there? Reading itself is Will Schwalbe’s great topic, and there is no one better to bring alive the nourishing, challenging intimacy of entering the worlds that books offer us. Each great book we read is an encounter with another human soul, and in this shimmering gem of a book Will Schwalbe miraculously enables his readers to truly experience that depth of different human connections. Along the road we get an accidental memoir with the storied Schwalbe a quietly compelling hero at the center. If we truly need books, as Schwalbe shows us we do, it is because we need each other.” —Elizabeth Alexander, author of The Light of the World

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe lives wonderfully up to its title. He offers an easy tone, sections chapter by chapter of his chosen stories and their affiliations to our own lives. He reminds me of a diviner who walks the open fields, taps, and reveals something rarely talked about, or perhaps never noticed, in one story or another, but is important. That’s a thrill! I can’t imagine a person who loves books not being grateful. Any season of the year, this book is a gift.” —Mary Oliver

“I very much enjoyed it . . . inspiring and charming . . . Books, to Schwalbe, are our last great hope to keep us from spiraling into the abyss. It’s an old-fashioned thesis—that this ancient medium can save civilization—but I happen to agree. Books build compassion, they inspire reform. They remain, Schwalbe writes, ‘one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny.’ And man, do we need bulwarks right now. Lots of bulwarks . . . Read Schwalbe’s book.” A.J. Jacobs, The New York Times

“Instead of trying to dust off some forgotten tome and convince us of its value, [Schwalbe] focuses on its pressing relevance at some critical juncture in his life. He isn’t arguing — and certainly not shilling — on behalf of a book or author; he’s passing on his own experience and leaving us to identify with it or not. Of course we do identify with it, typically, in large part because Schwalbe presents himself so convincingly as an Everyman. He doesn’t pretend, or even aspire, to the scholarly expertise of Denby and Dirda, or to Gottlieb’s breezy insider status. He conveys this humility with his easygoing, egalitarian tone and his high-low eclecticism, which ranges from Homer’s The Odyssey and Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener to E.B. White’s Stuart Little and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train….Books for Living is [a] gift, and one that keeps giving.” —USA Today
 
“Moving….Schwalbe truly shines.…Pleasant….It should convince even reluctant readers to pick up a book.” —Boston Globe

“Each chapter about a beloved book—Stuart Little, David Copperfield, Song of Solomon, Bird by Bird—is a finely crafted, generously candid, and affecting personal essay, none more moving than the homage to his boarding-school librarian, who subtly steered him to James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, having ‘realized that I was gay at just about the same time I did.’ In this warmly engaging, enlightening, and stirring memoir-in-books and literary celebration, Schwalbe reminds us that reading ‘isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control, and domination; it’s one of the world’s greatest joys.’” —Booklist *starred review*

“Schwalbe’s tremendous experience with reading and his stellar taste make for a fine guide to the varied and idiosyncratic list of books for which he advocates. By the end of the book, all serious readers will have added some titles to their to-read lists.” —Publishers Weekly *starred review*

“First-rate….Schwalbe’s enthusiasm for what he covers is contagious. He suggests enough fascinating books to keep you reading well through 2017.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Witty, warm, [and] insightful….A field guide to a handful of titles that might entertain, stir up trouble, or—yes—even save the life a reader already has.” —Shelf Awareness, *starred review*

“Schwalbe’s ‘manifesto for readers’ is not about his favorite books but those that helped him when he had a need. Written in a chatty, conversational style, the book is thematically organized by a wide variety of needs: slowing down, searching, trusting, napping, praying, etc…. In an age when the number of readers is declining, a delightful book like this might just snare a few new recruits.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A delicious indulgence to anyone who loves talking about books and listening to others talk about them, this book recounts some of Schwalbe’s favorite books. He discusses books that helped him through tough times, books that taught him, and books that molded him. This book will get you excited to read like nothing else can.” —Signature Reads
 
“A love letter to reading, bibliophiles will close the last page with a few more entries on their to-read list.” —Real Simple

“Wonderful….Every chapter…has tempted me to tap the Buy button on my Kindle. The variety of books included is wondrous….Please buy Will Schwalbe’s new book and however many life-giving books he points you toward. I swear you won’t regret it!” —Medium
 
“This is a charming collection, one that reminds us of the value in reading. It opens new and creative ways of thinking about beloved works, and serves to introduce lesser-known stories that are equally deserving. It takes a special kind of writer to make writing about reading appealing. And we are fortunate to have that writer in Will Schwalbe. Books for Living allows us to reflect and appreciate our own list of books that have influenced the ways we navigate the world. What could be more worth our while?” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Thoughtful and diverting…Schwalbe’s reading triggers deeply honest, often raw memories of departed friends and mentors, of past mistakes, or prompts the acknowledgement of personal foibles….Poignant.” —BookPage

“In each stand-alone chapter, Schwalbe intimately—and anecdotally—explains a literary work’s impact on his life. His books choices are diverse (David Copperfield and The Taste of Country Cooking both find space in the pages) and sometimes his takeaways are slightly surprising…. The casual but polished way in which Schwalbe writes about some of his favorite books—and smartly peppers in his own life’s stories—makes for an engaging and easy read. Books For Living quietly reminds readers that books are works of art that carry great import in our lives, and might even leave you wondering what your own list of books for living might look like.” —5280

“Very much a work for our age….Books for Living is not an elitist compendium. It is eclectic in books it considers….Vital.” —The Anniston Star
 

“A sweet and utterly restorative series of vignettes about how books – the right books, at the right times – can not only deepen a life but save it.” —The Christian Science Monitor
 
“In many ways, Books for Living is less an account of the specific books he cherishes than it is a gentle nudge to encourage readers to recall or seek out the kinds of books that will provide them with the meaning, solace and enlightenment he's gleaned from his cherished picks….Schwalbe is an engaging, often self-deprecating companion throughout, and it's as easy to imagine him sharing these insights in a friendly conversation over a coffee as it is to read them on the page….Anyone who shares his passion for books will have it sparked by his enthusiasm and unadulterated joy at these encounters with the written word. And those who haven't yet been seized by that marvelous affliction may succumb at the hands of this delightful work.” —Bookreporter