Every once in a while, a book comes along that gets me really excited about other books. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe was one of them. When I read it back in 2013, it came at precisely the right time.
I was twenty, working for a tech startup in Barcelona for a year, and struggling. I’d had a course of EMDR therapy for post-traumatic shock the year before, and it made a huge difference to my confidence. But I still had some work to do. Living alone, in a small badly-chosen flat without proper windows, and abroad for the first time? It was a challenge.
I was pushing myself. I’m glad I did, because it worked out exceptionally well in the end, but I needed all the support I could get. I got a lot of that support from books. Reading The End of Your Life Book Club encouraged me to read, to keep working on Tolstoy Therapy, and to do something meaningful every day.
I included the book in my winter reading recommendations, and in July 2015, I shared Will Schwalbe’s wonderful line about why The Hobbit might have remained such a favourite book of his: “I think it’s because it shows that people–or hobbits, as the case may be–can find strength they didn’t know they had”.
When I saw that Will Schwalbe had written another book, Books for Living: a reader’s guide to life, again about the power of books, I knew I’d have to move it to the top of my to-read list. I read most of Books for Living on a train to and from Zurich one weekend, finishing it up on Sunday afternoon tucked up under blankets in my house (the book has that pleasant effect on you). The book is the author’s opportunity – and our own – to ask, why is it that we read?
I’m on a search—and have been, I now realize, all my life—to find books to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person, to help me get my head around the big questions that I have and answer some of the small ones while I’m at it.
For Will Schwalbe, there are so many reasons that not reading is not an option. Books entertain, allow us to make sense of the world, help us to become a better person, and let us figure out our own answer to how to live our lives.
Chapter by chapter, Will Schwalbe shares books that speak to the particular challenges of our modern lives. There are thrillers, children’s literature and cookbooks shared as antidotes to the noise, distractions, and screens that challenge our missions to live fulfilled and happy lives.
Most memorable is when Will Schwalbe connects these books to the real reason why he chose them; the story of why they left such a mark. This comes down to one repeated theme: people. There are the people he grew up with, the people who have now gone, and the people who remain a happy part of his life. Each one has a story, and it’s a pleasure to read these.
Books, Will Schwalbe shows us, allow us to honour those we’ve loved and define how we want to live each day more fully. And, of course, it reminds us to keep reading. The books we read become a part of us, as do the authors and the authors who influenced them. What could be better for personal growth than absorbing the wisdom and life lessons of the ages?
Books for Living is for all of us who love to ask and be asked: “What are you reading?” When I next ask someone that question, which I hope to be very soon, I’ll think back to this book.
I’m not the same reader when I finish a book as I was when I started. Brains are tangles of pathways, and reading creates new ones. Every book changes your life. So I like to ask: How is this book changing mine?