BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe


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A self-help book about books.

Publishing executive Schwalbe had a bestseller with The End of Your Life Book Club (2012), a poignant memoir about growing up in a reading family and a two-person book club: the author and his ill mother. This follow-up employs a similar approach, with him discovering all kinds of books or poems “to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person.” His “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. One book’s shadow looms large: Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living—“there is no book I turn to more often.” It “lives up to the promise of its title.” When Schwalbe feels like quitting, he turns to “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the “patron saint of quitters.” He revisits David Copperfield, a “miracle of a book,” whenever he’s gone too long without remembering another David, a “beautiful, vibrant friend” who died. From Stuart Little, Schwalbe learns that, in the words of E.B. White, “questing is more important than finding.” Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train “gives us the tools we need to try to figure out whom we can trust,” while Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran is a “book about books changing lives, and it’s a book that has saved lives.” Schwalbe doesn’t go into that much detail about each book; rather, he leads by example, focusing on a book (Gift from the Sea, The Taste of Country Cooking, Zen in the Art of Archery) in the context of something specific and personal that happened to him.

In an age when the number of readers is declining, a delightful book like this might just snare a few new recruits.

Pub Date: Dec. 27th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-35354-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2016


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