by Will Schwable
“Reading is one of the few things you can do alone that can make you feel less alone.”
Will Schwalbe thinks “fifty-plus is a good age for big questions,” and believes with a passion that many of the answers can be found in books. He was 54 when writing this literary self-help manual cum reading memoir, and the myriad answers he proffers to the eternal refrain: “Why is it that we read?” are engaging, humorous and frequently moving.
His idiosyncratic selection of literary works can sometimes seem bizarre, but make sense if you permit him to guide you to the relevant text. He is both bibliophile and deep thinker, having read intensely and widely throughout his life, enabling him to make perceptive observations on all manner of topics ranging from problem solving and embracing mediocrity to finding friends and overcoming boredom.
He reminisces about his school days; teachers who significantly influenced him; Miss Locke – the empathetic librarian; important friendships; momentous decisions; and growing up gay in a period far less accepting than our own. But his most affecting and powerful writing flows when exploring loss: in particular, the devastating loss of innumerable young lives (including many of Schwable’s closest friends) to AIDS.
Every stage of Will’s life reminds him of a book he was reading at the time, much as some people associate a particular song with a moment of great sadness or euphoria. His choices swing wildly from David Copperfield to The Cake Bible via Plutarch’s Lives and Stuart Little. He takes comfort from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and learns valuable lessons from Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living (no, me neither). I couldn’t begin to predict whereabouts his reading tastes would next lead but found his literary odyssey a bracing experience.
Books for Living should ideally be read at a crunch point in life, when it is necessary to examine all options before making a decision. Perhaps by reading some of Schwable’s suggested titles in addition to those discovered by yourself, a shrewd conclusion will be reached.
“The more we read, the better at reading we become. At the end of each page I’m a better reader than I was at the start.”
Many thanks to Two Roads for providing an advance review copy of this title.