I'm currently reading Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. For me, the experience of reading this book is similiar to first reading the essays in Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens in college. I remember learning about authors I'd never read -- Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Toomer among others -- and the thrill of searching for their books and reading them for the first time. As a book lover, books that lead me to more books are my favorite type of books. And since many people who come to the library are also people who love books, I wanted to share this one with you.
Schwalbe divides his book into brief chapters such as "Searching," "Trusting," "Connecting," "Disconnecting," "Embracing Mediocrity," and "Recharging" and writes about books he's read at various stages of life when he needed help in each of these areas. He writes of reading sections from William Inge's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs in the public library as a high school student. He tells the story of the librarian who left books on a cart for him to find on his regular library visits. He mentions one of those books, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, as instrumental in helping him to "choose his own life."
As an adult, books such as The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang taught Schwalbe how to slow down and savor life. A chapter on "Losing"describes the author's experience of losing many friends during the AIDS crisis and reading Rebecca Browns' The Gifts of the Body, a chronicle of that time period. Schwalbe also writes of the power of books and their ability to save lives in a variety of ways. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson, Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou are all listed as books that readers have credited with saving their lives because they saw themselves reflected in the pages.
Schwalbe gives brief descriptions for most of the books he cites, just enough to pique the reader's curiosity. Reading this book has inspired me to re-read some of the titles I've already read and to seek out those such as The Importance of Living that are new to me. Reading Books for Living feels like receiving a gift of many books. And it's a great read for the end of the year since it offers a whole list of books to look forward to reading in the coming year.
Many thanks to Debbie Crawford who suggested this book for the Dimond Book Club.