Anyone who read Will Schwalbe’s “The End of Your Life Book Club” or has worked with him in his career as a well-respected book publishing executive knows that he lives out his mantra that “everything you need to know you can find in a book.” In his latest, “Books for Living,” a natural follow-up to his poignant, best-selling debut memoir, Schwalbe breezily walks us through a handful of books that have served as touchstones in his life.
At the beginning, the author is quick to note that these are not necessarily his “favorite books,” and he’s rightly “skeptical about finding any one book that will give me the answer to every question I have.” Rather, each selection either arrived in his life at exactly the right moment or speaks to him about a specific lesson, whether it’s a gentle reminder of the importance of “connecting,” “remembering,” “choosing kindness,” or “hugging,” or a more surprising discussion that emphasizes “quitting” or “embracing mediocrity.”
Some of the books are well-known, even canonical — “The Odyssey,” “David Copperfield,” “1984,” “Song of Solomon,” “Rebecca” — while others may be unfamiliar to all but the most omnivorous readers — e.g., Edward de Bono’s “Lateral Thinking,” which “does something more powerful than any computer: it helps you figure out solutions when you have the questions all wrong”; Portuguese writer Machado de Assis’s “The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas,’’ a book that taught Schwalbe to “embrace and enjoy my boredom”; or Xavier de Maistre’s “A Journey Around My Room,” written in 1790 and containing the message that “you don’t have to travel the world to see the ways we mistreat one another; it’s as close as the street outside our windows.”
One book that recurs throughout is Lin Yutang’s “The Importance of Living,” which provides “profound wisdom and a radical rejection of the philosophy of ambition.” Similarly, Schwalbe finds echoes of Yutang’s message in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” As he writes, “Bartleby may not be the most appealing model of resistance, but at the same time the purity of his stance, and the confidence with which he manages to maintain it, offer a weirdly refreshing touchstone in a society that is terrified of people who can’t be threatened or induced to participate in activities they don’t like.”
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Like Bartleby, Schwalbe seems uninterested in navigating more intellectually challenging shores; instead, he serves as a personable, amiable, relentlessly optimistic guide to a curated bookshelf that some readers will find random. He rarely dives deep, remaining consistently chatty, mostly upbeat, and frequently digressive. Indeed, one gets the sense that, given his vast experience in literature, Schwalbe could write another 10 books exactly like this one.
In the most moving essay, about Rebecca Brown’s “The Gifts of the Body,” Schwalbe wrestles with his haunting memories of the AIDS epidemic as it swept through the gay community during the 1980s. Brown’s book, he writes, “captures not just the horrors of the early years of the AIDS plague but also the toil, drudgery, mundanity of it all.” Here, Schwalbe truly shines, exploring a book that tackles age-old problems: “the big ones, the ones that writers have been tackling for thousands of years: the problem of pain, meaning, purpose, happiness.” Even for those with no direct experience with the AIDS epidemic, this chapter effectively demonstrates how books “demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s.”
That last is a significant sentiment that should not be taken lightly, especially in our current fraught political and social climate. Indeed, one of the biggest takeaways may not be overtly political, but it’s relevant and timely nonetheless: “Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny — but only so long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only so long as they actually do so.”
Throughout these pleasant, diverting essays, the author shows us how “[r]eading is an art we practice our whole lives,” and while the book may not hit hard enough for critics or scholars, it should convince even reluctant readers to pick up a book and “help them find their way in the world and give them pleasure while they are at it.”Eric Liebetrau, the managing editor and nonfiction editor of Kirkus Reviews, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books plays an important role in in our life. It is said that books are our best companions. Books are our friends in a real sense. They demand nothing from us. They give us plenty of joy. We also learn a lot from them. They take us into a different world of imagination.
A books consists of long written work. It may be published form either in physical form or in electronic form.
Good books improve our standard of living. They tone up our intellectual taste they make our outlook broad. They console us when we are depressed.
Books encourage us when we are defeated. They inspire us to work hard with hope and courage. They remove our ignorance and add to our knowledge. Books enrich our experience and sharpen our intellect. Thus a good book is our true friend.
A man must avoid reading bad books. They may make our life miserable. We may have to suffer because of bad books. They develop in us bad habits. They mislead and misguide. Bad books ruin our intellect. They spoil our interest in reading good and serious books. We must avoid reading such bad and cheap books because they waste our time and energy.
We should develop a healthy habit of reading books. We must select the books carefully. We should read only good books. Reading good books has many advantages. Bad books spoil our character. They develop unhealthy habits in us. We should follow children and young men to read only good books. They should act upon the lessons they learn from such books. A good book is our ‘friend, philosopher and guide’.
Everybody wants pleasure in life. Man wants wealth and power for the sake of pleasure. He wants to have good health so that he may enjoy life more and more. In the modern age man seeks pleasure everywhere. All the discoveries and inventions of science are made for human happiness. Even saints and sanyasis live a life of suffering in this world for divine pleasure in the other world.
We can get pleasure from various things. Spots, games and films are some of them. But the reading of books gives us the real pleasure of life. When we read good book, we forget ourselves. We do not remember the care and anxieties of the world. We are sent into a land of beauty, imagination and happiness. So, books are the source of the greatest pleasure in life.
Well-read man is loved by all. He is a store house of information. He knows something of everything. A well read man can be very good talker. He can entertain us with his good talks. He shows his worth at a social function. He can talk about many things. So, we do not feel dullness and boredom in the company of such persons. This is another advantage of reading books.
Books are of different kinds. Some books deal with topics of general nature. Everybody likes to read those books. There are also some books on certain topics. Such books are written for a particular set of readers. A general reader likes to read books of general nature. They give us knowledge and pleasure.
We should be very careful while we select books. Good books develop in us many qualities. A man of wide reading is a man of culture. Books, magazines and journals do not bore us. They make our life happy. But bad books spoil our taste. Only a sincere reader of good books knows what divine pleasure he gets from reading books.
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