Will Schwalbe, author of End-of-Your-Life Book Club, recently spoke at the Fox Cities Book Festival. He read several excerpts from this wonderful new title Books for Living, a memoir of a reader. In 26 chapters, Schwalbe writes about the books which shaped his own life story. He did not intend the specific books which are chapter titles to be a reading list of either the greatest literature or his personal favorite titles, but rather a way to share the ways in which books helped him engage with the world, learn life lessons, cultivate empathy and compassion, remember the stories of those who have passed away, make him a better person, and a better citizen.
“Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny—but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want whenever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights. It’s a right we need to guard with unwavering diligence. But it’s also a right we can guard with pleasure. Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control and domination: It’s one of the world’s great joys.”
There are so many reasons to read. Not the least of which is entertainment. Is there any finer way to spend a rainy afternoon in October than lying on the couch with a book that takes you to a different time and place? Commuting to work on the train or spending a summer afternoon on the beach isn’t complete without a good book.
Schwalbe described his worst nightmare as one where he’s in an airport waiting to board a long flight to Australia (always Australia) and he doesn’t have a book. He can’t find a bookstore and he’s running through the terminals desperately searching for a book, any book, rather than board a long flight without something to read.
Can anything compare to the intimacy of you and your imagination stimulated by words on the pages of a book? The parts of our brain activated by what we read are the same parts of the brain activated by directly experiencing what is described in a book. Reading isn’t an escape. It’s an engagement with the world beyond your first-hand observation.
“Perhaps that is why reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone. It is a solitary activity that connects you to others.”
You’re never the same person after reading a book as you were before. Books change you. Schwalbe has written a manifesto for readers while sharing the ways in which certain books came into his life and shaped his practical philosophy for living. And as you read it, you’re reminded of the books which shaped your life and your world view.
When you meet someone who has read a book you’ve read, there is an immediate connection to a common experience. It’s like having a mutual friend. Books can change our relationships to each other and the world around us.
There’s one question, Schwalbe says, we should all ask more often: “What are you reading?”
Letting someone know the answer to this question tells them who you are and what you are becoming. One simple way to begin to do this is by changing your email signature to include what you’re currently reading. It’s a marvelous way to share your love of books and reading.