“Books for Living” by Will Schwalbe— The Power of Books

Schwalbe, Will. “Books for Living”, Knopf, 2016.

The Power of Books

Amos Lassen

With the Lambda Literary Award nominations announced today, I was shocked to see how many of the books on the list I have not read and now I really have to get to work. It seems that I missed some really good ones and “Books for Living” quickly moved to the top of my list. Since we were snowed in today, I got the chance to read it and wonder why I had not done so before. I am certainly aware of the fact that books shape who we are and how we think. Will Schwalbe reminds us of this throughout this book. I agree with him totally that reading is entertainment and that it allows us to understand the world we live in. Schwalbe is on a 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 looks at a particular book and he shares 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 and include classic works of adult and children’s literature as well as contemporary thrillers and even cookbooks. Each book relates to the questions and concerns we all share. 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. He also shares stories and recommendations and if you love books as I do, you will love this as well.

Schwalbe takes us on a personal journey through a life of reading. But like any great journey and it is much more than just words. He gives us a map to those places deep inside ourselves where books can take us. We learn how stories and characters, inspire us, guide us and reveal us. Schwalbe uncovers lessons in and around books and these include lessons that have nothing to do with the content of the reading. What we need to remember is that each book we read is an encounter with another human soul and Schwalbe shows us how to truly experience that depth of different human connections. 

Do not be misled— this is much less an account of the specific books Schwalbe loves and cherishes and more of a little push to us to recall or seek out the kinds of books that will provide us with meaning, solace and enlightenment.

Schwalbe tells us the story of his life with the books he has read as inspiration for his remembrance of things past. He is a highly reflective person and his reading helps him to relive the sights and sounds of his childhood and adult life.

As a gay man he has learned the hard way what it means to reveal himself to others, but in his book he shares his most intimate thoughts and feelings with us and we love him for this. He speaks directly to us and tells us what is on his mind and he writes so naturally that it is easy to forget we are reading and not in actual conversation with him. We feel ready to share our own thoughts with him about the special books that have made a difference for good in our lives even though they may be far from the books he has chosen for his himself.

Schwalbe also shares examples of how to be a compassionate human by using shared reading experiences to enhance relationships and self-awareness. This is, quite simply, a beautiful gift from a beautiful man.

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